The idea that our mood could potentially be influenced through our facial expressions, was first introduced to us just over a century ago. It was William James, a professor of psychology at Harvard university that famously stated in 1890 “refuse to express passion and it dies.” Fast forward one hundred years later and the theory has found itself in the midst of a world-famous drug trial for depression.

Allergan is a multi-national pharmaceutical company and is so successful that the company’s assets total a whopping $52.529 billion. Allergan’s flagship product, Botox is not only one of the most common aesthetic procedures in the world, but also works well when treating other medical conditions. Allergan took the media industry by storm last year when the company confessed to trialling their much-loved product, Botox for treating cases of depression that do not respond to medication. Based on the same theory as William James in 1890, Allergan are currently testing to see if modifying facial expression will halt signals being delivered to the brain and therefore improve mood and well-being by reducing symptoms of depression.

According to the World Health Organization, 350 million people currently suffer from depression worldwide so it is no surprise the pharmaceutical industry are attempting to re-wire their approach in which they treat it. 258 patients were chosen for the medical trial last year; all of whom have not previously benefitted from anti-depressant medication and would not choose Botox in ordinary circumstances. The scale of each individual’s depression and symptoms were measured using a metric called Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS). The controversial trial ended with mixed findings; one group were given Botox and the other half were given a placebo drug. In the first part of the trial, participants who were treated with 30 units of Botox had found they experienced fewer symptoms of depression over the following six weeks. However, those that were given 50 units of Botox compared to patients whom received a placebo effect found little difference in their symptoms.

Over the last few months, a great deal of controversy has been raised as a result of such trials. There is a lot speculation that less invasive exercises can be carried out to reduce the symptoms of depression in cases that do not respond well to medication. These techniques work alongside the same theory; encouraging patients to learn to relax their facial muscles themselves to improve overall wellbeing. And is it fair to say facial expressions are a contributing cause of depression in every individual case? Additionally, there is always a risk of the patient not approving of how the final outcome of Botox makes them look and feel, which inevitably increases the liability of an increase of the depressive symptoms rather than a reduced number. Others have commented that the placebo effect can interfere with results altogether.

Could these final development stages provide us with information we do not already know? Using Botox to fight depression will certainly be a unique approach to treating this particular condition, as all other common medications like Prozac and Zoloft rely on a completely different system. A reveal date is still yet to be confirmed to show Allergan’s entire findings from the trial. 

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