Deal with Depression Head-On
By Naomi Walker
Depression Can Have Devastating Effects
Everyone feels down from time to time. But what happens if your down days turn into weeks, months or even years? Trying to cope with the demands of modern life whilst carrying a deep and seemingly unending sadness inside is more than some people can bear. Depression can lead to suicide, causing the loss of around 850,000 lives each year.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), depression is a common mental disorder that presents with depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or lower self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy and poor concentration. These problems can be chronic or recurrent and lead to substantial impairments in an individual’s ability to take care of his or her everyday responsibilities.
Conventional Medicine for Depression
Conventional medicine has a standard response to this problem. Some sufferers are offered talking therapy but still more are advised to take strong psychiatric medication that alters the chemical balance in the brain. Evidence now shows that depression is rarely caused by a chemical imbalance.
Medicines commonly prescribed for depression have been linked with some shocking side-effects, including self-harm, suicide and violent behaviour.
So... what is going on?
What Causes Depression?
Cases of depression are widely reported to be on the increase. In the year 2000, depression was the fourth leading worldwide contributor to global disease (WHO). It's now projected to reach overall second place by the year 2020. This may be in part be attributed to the gradual easing of social stigmas surrounding mental illness, resulting in more people seeking help. But there is no single cause of depression. You can develop it for different reasons.
Contributing Factors in Depression
Evidence suggests that a stressful lifestyle may play a significant part as you take on increasing responsibilities and struggle with difficult social and economic circumstances. Bad relationships and unrewarding jobs also take their toll , especially when you can't see a way out of a negative situation.
Researchers have also found that you are more at risk of developing depression if you experience traumatic events, such as bereavement or the break-up of a relationship. This is especially the case if you stop seeing family and friends and try to deal with problems alone. Grief is a normal response to loss, it should be respected for what it is and given ample time to work itself out. We all need to be able to express our losses without feeling that we are weak or failing to cope.
Is Depression Caused by a Chemical Imbalance?
For decades we have been told that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance. Recent studies have shown no evidence to support this. Could depression be simply another facet of the complex human mood spectrum?
Illness can also cause depression, especially if you have a chronic or life-threatening illness such as coronary heart disease or cancer. Chronic pain can also be difficult to cope with on an emotional level.
Other Illnesses that cause hormonal imbalances and some head injuries can also cause symptoms of depression. These may be the only cases that respond well to chemical intervention via conventional medications.
Hormonal Causes for Depression
Some women are susceptible to periods of depression following pregnancy as hormonal and physical changes play havoc. Others feel low in the run-up to menstruation, due to menopause or other natural hormonal upheavals.
Your personality type and inherited genetic traits can also put you at greater risk, as can negative early-life experiences. Some people are naturally more self-critical or have low self-esteem. Studies have also suggested you are more likely to suffer from depression if you have a close family member who has suffered from the condition in the past.
Alcohol and Drugs Have a Negative Impact
Alcohol and drugs can also have a negative impact on your mood. Sadly, many people who feel down reach for the bottle or self-medicate with drugs to drown their sorrows. Alcohol is a depressant so, whilst it may ‘numb’ the pain initially, in the long-term it's proven to cause more problems. Many drugs can lead the user into a cycle of ups and downs with increasing doses required to feel better and deeper lows experienced over time.
Conventional Treatments for Depression
Conventional Treatments for depression are psychotherapy and psychiatric medicine.
Psychotherapy for Depression
Some people find psychotherapy counter-productive whilst others find it helps them to make new plans and coping strategies. Waiting times for professional help can be long and the quality of this service varies depending on your location.
If you're someone who likes to talk problems through, counselling can be incredibly effective. However, for those who find talking to others about their problems difficult, it can feel intense and traumatic.
Psychiatric Medicines for Depression
Psychiatric medicines, whilst being reported to offer some short-term relief, have some potentially serious side-effects. Doctors appear very ready to prescribe a variety of pills, the latest being SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) but evidence points to serious problems with these powerful chemicals.
Fluoxetine, commonly sold as Prozac, lists as side-effects insomnia, anxiety, nervousness and an increase in suicidal thoughts; particularly in children and young people. This is frightening considering the similarities to some of the more devastating symptoms of the illness itself.
Disturbing SSRI Side Effects
Even more disturbing, SSRIs have been linked to a long list of suicide/murders including the Columbine massacre. Evidence continues to grow concerning a link with violence and apparently motiveless, irrational killing.
Even someone who does not experience serious side-effects from these medicines can feel pretty unpleasant during their treatment. Rather than feeling a lift in mood, many report feeling simply numb. Common other side-effects include headaches, changes in appetite and sexual dysfunction.
Why Are These Medicines Prescribed?
Medical science appears to have little tolerance for the diversity of human suffering and is forever searching for ways to fit the round pegs of human illness into its square diagnostic holes.
As long as we continue to want a ‘quick fix’ pill to sort out our problems, the medical profession, under considerable encouragement from the multi-billion dollar making pharmaceutical companies, will continue to cater for our needs. In the meantime, the pharmaceutical companies cash in on our never-ending appetite for happiness.
Some people may get a short term benefit from a course of psychiatric medicine. However, there is strong evidence to suggest that holistic lifestyle changes and an acceptance that we simply can’t feel happy all the time may have a more beneficial and lasting effect on this condition.
So, What is the Answer?
Think About Why You Are Depressed
If you feel depressed, think about why you feel depressed. If you have recently experienced some large changes in your life or have suffered a loss of some kind, then be prepared to allow yourself time to grieve and heal.
If your home or work circumstances are difficult, try to make plans to change. If you can’t see a way out, perhaps seek help from a life counsellor or talk it through with a friend who may be able to see options that you are missing.
If you can’t put your finger on the cause of your depression you should visit your doctor, who will be able to test you for physiological causes and talk through your symptoms and any treatments available. Always make sure that you tell your doctor if you intend to self-treat as it's important that your medical record reflects any treatment, conventional or otherwise.
Alternative Treatments for Depression
There are also some alternative options for dealing with persistent low mood.
Life Style Changes
Take Charge of your Life - Sit down with a piece of paper and write a plan, set some realistic goals. Try writing down your problems and working methodically through them in an objective way – imagine you're advising a friend who is experiencing the issues. Sometimes it's hard to see a way out of a situation if we are too emotionally involved with it. By looking at your problems as though they were someone else's, you should be able to see the issues more clearly.
Get Out in the Fresh Air - Take up gardening or walk outside for twenty minutes every day. Natural sunlight stimulates the production of vitamin D, a chemical known to be associated with mood.
Exercise Regularly – Physical exercise causes your brain to release 'feel good' chemicals, such as dopamine. These chemicals provide a natural, long-lasting lift to mood. Exercise can also improve your self-confidence and help you to focus on constructive ways to deal with troublesome issues.
Eat a Balanced Diet – Research has linked certain foods to an improvement in mood.
Try to increase your intake of the following foods:
Omega 3 Fatty Acids – wild salmon, flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts.
Antioxidants – carrots, squash, spinach, sweet potatoes, citrus fruits, berries, peppers, brussel sprouts, brocolli, strawberries, almonds, avocados, sunflower seeds, halibut, turkey, chicken and eggs.
Magnesium – nuts, seeds, avocados and legumes.
Vitamin B – poultry, seafood, bananas, potatoes, dairy and leafy green vegetables.
Zinc – meat, poultry and oysters.
Socialise - It’s important to meet people. Loneliness can feel very much like depression. We are sociable animals by nature. Although feeling low can make you feel like you want to hide away, human contact can help to improve your mood. If you really can't face meeting people face-to-face, consider social media as a way to maintain contact until you feel up to meeting people in the real world.
Volunteer – helping other people can put your problems into perspective. It's also enormously rewarding. There are many charities you can help out or perhaps try to visit an elderly neighbour who lives alone.
Alternative Remedies - Ginkgo biloba, St John’s Wort, B vitamins, Omega 3 fatty oils and flower remedies have all been reported to help lift mood. If you take any substance, be sure to check with your GP about interactions with other drugs you may take.
CBD – CBD is a compound found in marijuana and has been strongly linked to helping with depression and the associated symptoms, such as anxiety and insomnia. CBD preparations have the compound that causes you to be 'high' (TCH) removed and are legal in the UK.
Energy Healing – There are many different types of energy healing to try such as Reiki , crystal healing or sound therapy. Look up a reputable practitioner in your area.
Homeopathy – There are several homeopathic remedies said to target low mood. Homeopathy is a complex field. For the best results, see a qualified practitioner.
Yoga – This ancient art can help you to focus and release negative energy from your mind and body. As well as the emotional benefits, regular yoga practice can increase your physical well-being.
CBT – Cognitive Behaviour Therapy involves identifying negative behaviour patterns and ways of thinking, then finding new ways of dealing with recurrent issues and unproductive thoughts. Research suggests it's highly effective against depression and anxiety disorders. Ask your GP to refer you to a practitioner.
Hypnotherapy – Hypnotherapy has been proven to help with emotional disorders and involves relaxation teamed with the use of positive suggestions. Ask your GP to recommend a good hypnotherapist. There are online hypnotherapy sessions available online you may also wish to try. Read more about hypnotherapy.
Massage – Not only does massage relax your body and mind, it's also beneficial to experience human contact on this level. Many gyms and leisure centres now offer massage services.
Depression can feel endless. Sufferers can feel alone and unable to help themselves. If you feel depressed, remember you're not alone. So many people suffer from persistent low mood. Think of the condition as something that can be treated and resolved in time – you're in charge of your mind and you can take control of your life. Moods are transient and the one consistent aspect of life is that situations change.
Take the bull by the horns and take positive steps to kick depression to the kerb once and for all.
Lastly, remember if you're feeling suicidal or that you may harm yourself or others - seek immediate professional help. The Samaritans are available 24 hours a day in the UK and will offer non-judgemental support and advice. You can call them on: (UK) 116 123 or email Jo@samaritans.org