Few things disturb a depressed person more than a friend with good intentions urging a smile, because you can’t resolve worry just by pretending to look happy, right? A new study shows that those well-meaning friends might be on the right track. Botox injections, which prevent frowning, could help patients overcome depression.
Cosmetic Dermatologist, Eric Finzi, and a professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School recount their results in the Journal of Psychiatric Research. A random portion of the study group of 74 patients with major depression received Botox injections into the muscles of the forehead. Botox interrupts signals from nerves that tell muscles to contract, so these individuals were physically not able to frown. The remainder of the group received placebo injections of harmless saline.
After six weeks, 52 percent of the Botox subjects experienced relief from depression, while only 15 percent of those injected with saline saw similar results. Although about half of the Botox subjects correctly guessed at their treatment, it appeared to have no effect on their response.
This study supports results of research conducted by Michael Lewis at Cardiff University a few years ago. He found that subjects injected with Botox above the eyes frowned less and reported feeling better than those who did not receive treatment. At the University of Basel, M. Axel Wollmer also saw mood improvement in depressed subjects treated with Botox.
The notion is not farfetched. While we tend to think that the brain controls emotional state, there is much evidence that the current flows both directions – physical expressions can have a powerful influence on mood.
We believe we smile because we are happy, cry when we feel sad, and act in violence as a result of anger. Maybe not. Long ago Charles Darwin observed that control of facial expression is a factor in manipulating response. He felt that emotions are the result (not the cause) of bodily actions. For example, we feel happy because of the physical act of smiling; angry as the result of throwing a punch; sorry because of the flow of tears.
The Botox studies suggest that the brain monitors facial expression and responds accordingly. So, by controlling expression, we may be able to alter mood. It’s too soon to say with certainty that Botox is effective treatment for depression, but one of the challenges will be reversing the conventional thought process.
If the connection is confidently illustrated, it will pose an interesting question. Botox is one of the most popular procedures, with millions of patients receiving treatment each year. Have they unintentionally avoided depression through an investment in enhanced appearance?
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