January can be a difficult month for many, depression can stalk us when there is such little day light. Its lightened only by scenes like the one above that greeted me this week in Inveraray.
Like many I have experienced and witnessed the impact of depression on myself and people I love and its a devastating illness. So often it's undiagnosed and diminishes lives, steals joy, steals life even. It's the great unspoken illness. Years ago we used to whisper the word cancer, now it's said more openly; but not so depression. It's still held secret often and nursed as something shameful; a failing. But no one would choose depression, would they? That dark tunnel of anxiety, that crushing burden of joylessness, that feeling of hopelessness, those weights tied to your life dragging it down making the simplest of tasks a nightmare to achieve. No-one would choose it and yet still guilt sneaks in, part of the symptoms it seems, destined to feed the condition, to further dent a fragile self esteem.
So when I read an article that said actually depression isn't the psychological problem we thought but really more a physical one, I caught myself feeling an element of relief for a moment. "Not guilty your honour, wisnae me, a virus done it and ran away". So I kept reading....
The researchers had noted that depression frequently was preceded by illness and they noticed increased inflammatory responses. Is depression a kind of allergic reaction to illness perhaps? We recognise that inflammation plays an important part in our most recent epidemics and some suggest depression may even be as a result of infection.
" Others aren’t willing to go that far, not least because infection is not the only way to set off inflammation. A diet rich in trans fats and sugar has been shown to promote inflammation, while a healthy one full of fruit, veg and oily fish helps keep it at bay. Obesity is another risk factor, probably because body fat, particularly around the belly, stores large quantities of cytokines.
Add this to the fact that stress, particularly the kind that follows social rejection or loneliness, also causes inflammation, and it starts to look as if depression is a kind of allergy to modern life ."
Depression may be a kind of allergy to modern life; a challenging statement and yet it also makes sense. So what is the answer? It's complex isn't it?Perhaps not, the answer lies in an anti-flammatory pill say the researchers, maybe taken alongside an antidepressant to improve the effectiveness. Crack out the neurofen! Of course the solution to our modern life will be a pill, that's in keeping with how we run our modern lives, isn't it? But I found myself deflated when I read this. It was a bit like almost finding a secret treasure and then realising it wasn't special at all.
If we think of allergies after all, we might take an antihistamine but we would also avoid what made us allergic wouldn't we? I agree it makes sense that depression isn't only psychosocial, but the solutions must surely also lie in how we live our lives and how we treat ourselves and others with compassion.
I do hope our answer will instead be to begin to peel back the layers of the unintended consequences of modern living. We need to get back to eating food, ( see my blog on this) not a manufactured version of it and as a society we need to make that easy to do. Let's collectively acknowledge the impact of modern living on health and not blame individuals for this but instead work together to make it easier to embrace wellbeing in its widest sense.
I firmly believe the call for change we see in politics just now is people finally saying we need to change how we do things. And that's scary, but maybe it's scarier to do nothing?
Governments can't have all the answers, no one does but let's give our support to those who are willing to focus on wellbeing for all, foster thriving communities and who demonstrate compassion for all. We can make that difference and the right time to start is now.
For my fellow Cohen fans....here he is throwing out a challenge as only he can do..as he says ,its almost like the blues.