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A new view of depression suggests that depression is neither a mental nor physical disorder, but a system disorder affecting both the mind and body.
This integrated view of depression has significant implications for how we treat depression. And, this perspective highlights the need for effective coordinated care among therapists, prescribers and primary care physicians.
Scientists are increasingly finding that depression and other psychological disorders can be as much diseases of the body as of the mind.
People with long-term psychological stress, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder tend to develop earlier and more serious forms of physical illnesses that usually hit people in older age, such as stroke, dementia, heart disease and diabetes. Recent research points to what might be happening on the cellular level that could account for this.
Scientists are finding that the same changes to chromosomes that happen as people age can also be found in people experiencing major stress and depression.
The phenomenon, known as “accelerated aging,” is beginning to reshape the fields understanding of stress and depression not merely as psychological conditions but as body-wide illnesses in which mood may be just the most obvious symptom.
“As we learn more…we will begin to think less of depression as a mental illness or even a brain disease, but as a systemic illness,” says Owen Wolkowitz, a psychiatry professor at the University of California, San Francisco, who along with colleagues has conducted research in the field.
Gaining a better understanding of the mechanisms that link physical and mental conditions could someday prove helpful in diagnosing and treating psychological illnesses and improving cognition in people with memory problems, Dr. Wolkowitz says.
People who have major bouts of depression have an increased risk at a younger age of developing conditions typically associated with getting older. This may be because depression makes cells age prematurely, new research suggests. [These conditions include:]
Source: Owen Wolkowitz, UCSF
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