Growing Interest in Inflammation and Immune Responses as Causes of Mental Disorders

Rob Wipond
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There is mounting evidence that inflammation and altered immune system responses may be playing important roles in the pathogenesis of psychological distress, including in the etiology of schizophrenia, according to a research review and editorial in The Lancet Psychiatry.

“Contrary to the traditional view that the brain is an immunologically privileged site shielded behind the blood–brain barrier, studies in the past 20 years have noted complex interactions between the immune system, systemic inflammation, and the brain, which can lead to changes in mood, cognition, and behaviour,” stated a team led by University of Cambridge researchers.

“Early in the 20th century, there was great excitement when general paresis of the insane was shown to be due to syphilis and curable with penicillin, inspiring hope that similar organic causes might be found for other types of mental illness,” stated the editorial. “This hope was not realised and for the rest of the century immunology and psychiatry went their separate ways. Now evidence is accumulating that neuroinflammation might after all contribute to some disorders, such as schizophrenia(.)”

The Lancet Psychiatry. “Mind and Antibody: The Return of Immunopsychiatry.” The Lancet Psychiatry 2, no. 3 (n.d.): 191. Accessed March 1, 2015. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(15)00057-7. (Full text)

Khandaker, Golam M, Lesley Cousins, Julia Deakin, Belinda R Lennox, Robert Yolken, and Peter B Jones. “Inflammation and Immunity in Schizophrenia: Implications for Pathophysiology and Treatment.” The Lancet Psychiatry 2, no. 3 (n.d.): 258–70. Accessed March 1, 2015. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(14)00122-9. (Abstract)

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Rob Wipond
Rob Wipond is a Victoria, British Columbia-based freelance journalist who has been writing on mental health issues for fifteen years. His research has particularly focused on the interfaces between psychiatry, the justice system, and civil rights. His articles have been nominated for three Canadian National Magazine Awards, six Western Magazine Awards, and four Jack Webster Awards for journalism. He can be contacted through his website.

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16 COMMENTS

  1. I have personally found that my body goes into an immune response when it’s visited by a trauma trigger. The trauma remains foundational. The immune response is secondary to a trauma in the history of the person. It would be a mistake to consider the immunological aspects without also looking at trauma. This is why there is so much auto-immune illness in circles of folks who’ve been psychiatrized.

    Gabor Mate’s work is very important here:
    Mental illness, addiction & most chronic illness is linked to childhood loss & trauma http://beyondmeds.com/2013/12/31/mental-illness-childhood-trauma/

    This sort of research so often misses the whole picture…but there are people stringing it all together finally….it just needs to get out there a little more widely. Pharmaceutical management is NOT the way to go.

    • I used to have ME symptoms that cleared up on therpuetic retreats. It started with a really bad cold after a relationship break up that bought up very angry feelings about both my parents. The cold and the post viral fatique provided a rest from the never ending round of extreme anger.

      The ME society do not like the idea it has a psychological componant but I think that was the major driver for me.

    • I would not go as far as to say that there’s never a causal link between infection and/or immune response and some psychiatric symptoms. That being said trauma, neglect and other forms of stress, usually chronic, have a profound suppressing/de-regulating effect on the immune system. There’s a lot of “anecdotal evidence” of people going very sick after periods of intense stress (usually after the stress is somewhat alleviated). I have experienced that personally and would be surprised if there was no link.
      As to immune response – there’s some evidence that suppressing some aspects of immune response with anti-inflammation drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen or paracetamol is good for you in terms of preventing certain forms of illness and maybe even promoting longevity. But given the side effects and the many unknowns of prolonged drug treatment I’d be wary of encouraging people to take drugs daily.

      • Our bodies have to process stress. Most of us, most of the time, do not have great difficulty processing stress because of organ damage, for instance, so we take for granted what an embodied phenomenon stress is— it’s not all in our heads, by any means.

        I worked as a caregiver for a transplant candidate, and saw him fall like a board and lapse into a comatose state after talking to his ex-wife on the phone. His liver could not handle the stress.

        And everyone has a limit. Contrary to popular opinion among many psychiatrists, anyone can be leveled by stress, especially when they are swept up into a storm of many stressful things intersecting and do not have the resources to soften the blows.

    • I agree, Monica – Again, anything “biological” is seized upon in the hopes that ‘mental illness’ will be able to be attributed to purely organic, non-social phenomena (i.e. no one’s – except perhaps the sufferer’s – fault), and chronic stress & trauma are ignored. Are they asking the question, “From whence commeth all this inflammation & immune activity? Could it be that the psychological stress that is already known to be implicated in, well, psychological distress (otherwise known as m.i.) is also behind much of this inflammation & immune activity in the first place?” It’s almost as if many researchers and others have an agenda to avoid looking at chronic stress & trauma at all costs, to avoid looking at parenting and other social forces which shape growing bodies & minds & to implicate anything but.

      Have you read Dr. Mate’s book “When the Body Says No: Exploring the Stress-Disease Connection”? It is eye-opening. He explains thoroughly the exact ways in which psychological/emotional stress affects the immune and all the other systems of the body – since they are all connected – and can lead to all sorts of physical illness over time (autoimmune diseases [incl. ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, “and many other diseases that are not always recognized to be autoimmune in origin, such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis and possibly even Alzheimer’s disease”], cancers, ALS, cardiovascular disease, allergies, asthma, etc.). He describes a sort of medical “bermuda triangle” which has been swallowing up this type of research over the past decades resulting in the medical field’s neglect of and even bias against this very important cause & effect mechanism, but that a new field called “psychoneuroimmunology” is emerging which “studies the ways that the psyche–the mind and its content of emotions–profoundly interacts with the body’s nervous system and how both of them, in turn, form an essential link with our immune defenses… We are discovering the scientific basis of what we have known before and have forgotten, to our great loss.”

  2. The anti-inflammatory drugs also can cause the symptoms of the so-called “mental illnesses.” Voltaren, for example, can cause “change in consciousness, confusion, depression, irritability, loss of consciousness, nervousness, unusual drowsiness, dullness, or feeling of sluggishness” to name just a few of the potential adverse side effects of that drug – that, in part, led to my misdiagnoses of “bipolar,” “paranoid schizophrenia,” and “depression caused by self” – by three different doctors within just a couple weeks. I’m quite certain there is neither validity nor reliability when it comes to diagnosing people with the DSM disorders.

    And it’s truly a shame the doctors don’t have any idea what the adverse effects of their drugs are, and they’re running around like lunatics defaming people with fictional diseases, due to their ignorance, and in my doctor’s case paranoia, too. But it is so much easier and more profitable to defame a healthy patient with a fictitious mental illness, then make the patient psychotic with the antipsychotics, than it is to actually do one’s job properly.

      • I agree, Alex, and thank you. The profit motive within the health care industry seems to have corrupted the entire industry. We need people to go into medicine because they want to truly help people, rather than for power or prestige.

        I don’t personally agree with caste systems, but the goal of the psychiatric industry does seem to be to create a caste system in the US. In India, the caste system is at least wise enough to know not to put the medical community at the top, and for good reason.

        • We Americans sure have our work cut out for us when it comes to embodying social wisdom, don’t we?

          Yes, profit from healing and health care is an inherent corruption, doesn’t make sense at all. Personally, I don’t feel its just to charge for healing services that some can afford and others cannot. That alone is a big problem, right there.

          It’s why I do work for practically nothing or no cost at all. I really and truly love the work I do, with a passion, and any who works with me knows this undoubtedly. Shifting to the extremes I did, from deep suffering to chronic joy as I did, and witnessing it from the inside taught me to embrace the magic of life.

          To me, personal growth and spiritual evolution is the deliciousness of life. I grow along with my clients, each and every time.

    • My neurologist backed away from me in fear while I was explaining that the delirium he was witnessing was caused by the (slow) discontinuation of baclofen that he prescribed. An impish part of me wanted to glare at him in a witchy way and say, “The primordial mother will destroy you!”

      Silly doctor.

      They scare like rabbits.

      • Maybe she will, who knows. But I do know the mainstream medical community needs to get out of the business of covering up their easily recognized iatrogenesis and complex drug induced medical mistakes, with the controversial psychiatric stigmatizations and tranquilization. Because we’re going to completely discredit and take psychiatry down. Pray to God.

  3. It’s getting harder these days too, considering the giant push lately for forced innoculation.

    Makes you wonder what will happen, even if things like vaccines are shown to have caused illness. Governmental agencies and phamaceutical companies will claim they fixed whatever glitch there was and will still demand to inject you with whatever they like… for the herd.