The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that a new link has been found between the physical and psychological aspects of depression. The research centers on telomeres, a protective covering at the ends of chromosomes. Apparently as we get older, our telomeres shorten. Shortened telomeres are related to increased risk of disease and mortality. Now researchers have discovered that telomere length is also related to depression, trauma, stress, and anxiety.
This finding can help us understand the profound challenges faced by people struggling against depression and related disorders. Those of us who have lived with depressed people are all too aware that the illness affects much more than mood. Serious, chronic depression commonly occurs alongside very real physical symptoms such as migraines, aches and pains, extreme exhaustion. These physical demons can be as difficult to track down and treat as is the depression itself. Too often, trying to sort out the ailments and treat them all effectively turns into a nightmarish maze of doctors, medications, and other medical treatments. Due to the diminished capabilities of the depressed person him or herself, a close relative/caregiver must often be the catalyst and coordinator in the search for effective treatment. It’s an overwhelming task, complicated by the fact that we have full lives to live outside our caregiver roles.
Discovering the telomere connection and other concrete physical aspects of depression is an important step in overcoming the pain and confusion of the illness, both for depressed people and for their loved ones. We can only hope that medical research continues to be funded for this vital area of study.