Botox, a common cosmetic injection often used to tighten up wrinkles in aging faces, has become something of a punchline. But, as it turns out, there's more to Botox than you've probably heard. Researchers first explored the possibility a few years ago, and more recent evidence confirms this surprising fact: facial Botox treatments can actually alleviate depression.
The phenomenon underlying this possibility is known as the "facial feedback hypothesis." Put simply, there appears to be a robust instead of superficial or one-way connection between our facial expressions and our emotions. Thought it's true that often an emotion is first felt and then reflected by the face, sometimes it happens the other way around. You might smile to pretend to be happy in an uncomfortable social situation, and then feel happier as a result. Or you might scowl to deflect strangers' attention on the street, but then feel grumpier.
So, especially when people age and their faces sag and bunch, that physical change can induce in them a psychological change for the worse. Treatments with Botox (to smooth and tighten the skin) can jump start a depression patient's recovery by providing facial feedback that their mental state should match the happier state of their facial expressions. Although the Botox treatments may not be enough to singlehandedly cure depression, they are a potentially valuable addition to our modern treatment arsenal (especially since Botox is fairly safe and accessible).
You might want to think twice before joking about Botox in the future, because its medical uses are actually pretty extensive: I first learned this a few years back when my grandmother had Botox injections to her vocal cords to treat a warbling speech disorder. She was petrified at the thought that anyone in the family would think she'd had Botox for cosmetic purposes, but thank goodness that so many people are using Botox in the typical way: without their commercial support, the brand might not have stayed afloat long enough for all of these more important uses to be discovered.
If you are depressed, be sure to see a mental health provider and don't just head straight for the dermatologist! But we could all probably benefit from a reminder that acting happier really can mean feeling happier.