A breakthrough study connected a poor immune system to the risk of developing serious mental health problems. Findings showed that immune system treatments helped many mental health patients get better.
According to the Professor Ian Hickie from the Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney, the connection between mental health issues and a weak immune system is stronger compared to previous assumptions.
The research is a joint venture between the University and Meeting for Minds (M4M), a charity base in Perth, Australia. It can lead to new treatments in the field of mental health.
Elle McCabe is one of the study's beneficiaries who suffered from headaches, stomach pain and nausea. The symptoms of her mental illness manifested when her immune system was weakened by a viral infection.
She was 16 years old when she had a psychotic event. She was also in bed most of the time and suffered from "constant, chronic pain."
Due to her condition, she had few relationships and no social life. Apart from her family and close friends, her condition kept her from studying and working.
When she started treatments on her immune system, her mental health gradually improved. This treatment involved a combination of medicines and plasma infusion that focused on improving the compromised immune system.
McCabe shared that the treatment changed her life and enabled her to study full-time. She is doing well compared to the past when reading proved to be a struggle.
Apart from having a great social life, she also had been in a 4-year relationship. The treatment also enabled her to work part-time and even have her own business.
"The key issue there is what's driving the mental ill health is not so much a change in the brain, but a change in the immune system, an auto-immune disease that's causing the aberrant behavior," said Hickie.
In the past, researchers didn't have the lab tests or technologies to confirm the connection when in fact several of these mental health issues are linked to a weak immune system.
Hickie added that finding the right combination or tailor-fit therapies for individual patients proves to be the current challenge. Some patients might need suppression, while some might require a boost.