Can Botox Really Improve Mental Health?

It is estimated that over 16 million adults in the United States suffer from at least one major depressive episode each year. If you are in this group, you may have tried different treatments to help relieve your depression symptoms. The two most common treatments for depression are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and prescription anti-depressants.

But new research is suggesting that Botox may also be an effective treatment for depression.

What is Botox?

Botox is a substance used in cosmetic procedures to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It is derived from a substance called botulinum toxin A that temporarily paralyzes muscles.

You may be wondering how this substance, used to help people look younger, helps with depression. The idea of using Botox to treat depression came in 2006 after a small trial with 10 participants suffering from depression. All were given a Botox injection in what’s called the “glabellar frown lines”. Those are the creases in between your eyes that develop from scowling or squinting.

Just two shorts months after the injection, 9 out of the 10 participants no longer had symptoms of depression. Though the 10th participant did still have some symptoms, they reported their mood had improved.

Over the course of the next decade, more studies would mimic this first one, each obtaining similar results. Depressed participants saw a marked improvement in symptoms and overall mood in as little as 6 weeks. This is congruent with antidepressants, which also typically take up to 6 weeks to begin working.

How Does it Work Exactly?

You may be thinking that appearing younger, or at least, having a couple of frown lines disappear, is what caused numerous study participants over the years to find their mood significantly improved after Botox injections. But subsequent studies disproved this particular theory.

The best explanation for why Botox helps treat depression is that it interrupts the “facial feedback” mechanism. Our facial expressions, that is whether we scowl, frown or smile, send feedback to our brain. It’s like a feedback loop. When we frown, we feel bad, and when we feel bad, we frown. By decreasing your facial muscle’s ability to frown, researchers believe this may be why people’s mood improves.

For those interested in trying Botox for depression, it’s best to look for a doctor who specializes in giving these injections. You can speak with your primary doctor for a referral. Also, as the FDA has not approved Botox to treat depression, your insurance most likely won’t cover it.