The most re-occurring message that we hear in healthcare today is “there is no health without mental health”. But the wisdom behind this is often not explained. Mental and physical health are intertwined on many different levels including the unfortunate statistic that “There is a 10-25 year life expectancy reduction in patients with severe mental disorders” (WHO). The reasons behind this are too extensive to discuss here, however one of the health concerns under investigation by mental health professionals is inflammation.
Inflammation occurs when the immune system’s response is activated because of irritation, injury, or infections. It is often associated with warmth, redness, swelling, pain, and/or fever, as our bodies try to protect us. Inflammation is associated with increases in cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease, diabetes, and cancer (Furman et al., 2019). Mental health researchers are taking a closer look at inflammation because data has shown a relationship between inflammation and depression as well. Not every person with depression has increased inflammation (and depression is not an inflammatory disorder), but many studies have demonstrated increased mean concentrations of a variety of inflammatory markers in depressed patients when compared to control groups (Miller, 2018).
So, does depression cause inflammation or does inflammation cause depression? Studies seem to indicate that inflammation and the inflammatory response (antibodies) have some effect on the brain. However, research has shown that depression treatment was associated with reduction in inflammation (Kohler et al., 2018), and that reduction of inflammation might provide an anti-depressant effect (Moulton et al., 2016). There seems to be a bidirectional relationship with no clear cause and effect data available currently, but research continues.
Other well-studied research has connected the gut to the brain and may be part of the same system that communicates inflammation. The neural network in the gut has many structural and chemical similarities to the brain. So it is not surprising that an elegant connection of hormones, neurotransmitters, and electrical impulses, allows for two-way communication between brain and gut. Just as psychological factors (stress, anxiety, fear) can be felt in your stomach, research shows that changes in the microbiome are implicated in neuropsychiatric and neurological disorders (Wolkin, 2015).
This data adds to a growing body of research that points to the strong connection between the brain and the body, and that healing one without attention to the other is counterproductive. At Rose Hill we recognize this connection and have developed programming that supports a holistic approach to wellness. Rose Hill’s psychiatrist works closely with each resident to find the optimum medication at the lowest effective dose to control symptoms. Likewise, our registered dietitian provides education and menu support for our many residents’ dietary needs. Opportunity to work out in the Rose Hill gym, walk on the outdoor walking trail or participate in regular yoga classes support the human need to exercise. Nurses monitor all aspects of our resident’s physical health (including vaccinations!). Even the night-shift staff support our residents in getting 7-8 hours of sleep. At Rose Hill Center you are more than a diagnosis or a case number, you are an entire individual, mind, body, and spirit.