Depression is a diseased state of the brain; it is complex and amorphous. In a previous article, we explored various aspects of depression. We looked into the science behind it, some possible causes, and ways to identify it. For many people who suffer from depression, a variety of medicines are available and may lessen or eradicate the symptoms of this disease. However, there are also many non-pharmaceutical remedies to depressive symptoms as well. This week, we examine a few ways to work with the side-effects of depression outside of prescription medication.
The most prevalent class of antidepressant, “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors”, works for many depressed people. However, these pills can also cause side effects that make depression worse–including disturbing ones sleep patterns, causing weight gain, or causing depressive thoughts to worsen. The decision to change medication or replace it with non-pharmaceutical treatment should be made with the guidance of a professional. Depression should not be taken lightly. It is a kind of life-poison if left untreated, tarnishing work performance, relationships, physical health, and mental health in unexpected ways like impairing memory and concentration. In very severe cases, untreated depression can lead to suicidal thoughts or actions.
Your north star in this fight is systemic health and reduction in inflammation. In other words, eat really healthy. Every meal is an opportunity to fight depression, and not in a small way. Every morsel of food you consume is either pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. Reduce sugar and grain intake; don’t overeat. Make sure you’re getting the recommended daily allowances of all vitamins and minerals. Be excessively hydrated.
According to the CDC, the nine most commonly overlooked nutrients in the U.S. are vitamin B6, iron, vitamin D, vitamin C, vitamin B12, vitamin A, vitamin E, and folate. Magnesium in particular is possibly helpful in dealing with depression, but reportedly also highly overlooked in the U.S. Eating fresh fruits, vegetables, and animal products is much better for your digestion and overall health than processed and preserved products.
If a decent chunk of your caloric intake is processed food (>500 cal), consider taking supplemental nutrients–especially magnesium and fish oil for Omega 3 fatty acids. The most promising herbal aid to treating depression is currently one called St. John’s Wort. It has been shown as far more effective than placebo in double blind trials, and rivals some standard antidepressant drugs for treating mild to moderate depression (Klaus et al, 1996).
There is a strong relationship between exercise and mental health, which can be capitalized on while fighting depression. In dozens of studies, regular exercise measurably relieves symptoms. If possible, exercise in the sun. Sunlight stimulates vitamin D synthesis and also has a profound impact in the brain, raising levels of serotonin (Young, 2007).
If you don’t own a pet, consider getting one. Bonding with dogs has been shown to stimulate the release of oxytocin, the neurotransmitter associated with love, in women (Miller et all, 2009). Men have less of a reaction when interacting with pets, and should perhaps focus on interacting more with people. Both sexes should, however, socialize more often when dealing with depression.
Finally, look inward. Don’t allow distractions. Mindless stimulation is a godsend for the depressed, who only want time to tick away faster, but it drowns the peace which is necessary for useful meditation. You don’t have to sit cross-legged and hum a low octave, but you should force yourself to go screen-less for maybe twenty or thirty minutes a day and just think through what may be getting in the way of your happiness. Many people for whom the answer is not obvious find that they lack a sense of purpose. Their days are not important. They don’t feel progress.
That need for advancement, discovery, and creation is embedded in the identity of our species. Try and feed it. Read an interesting book, hone your skill in a sport, or play a strategic video game to feel advancement; paint a picture, or write a short story which interests you to feel creation. Stagnation is the enemy of purpose, and purpose will help lift you from depression.
If you suspect that someone you care about is depressed, then you may be in a position to help. Bring it to their attention. Try and get them to partake in activities with you. Spend more time with them. Gently expose them to the plentiful literature which educates about all aspects of depression, including how to manage the symptoms. Urge them to seek help from support groups or a professional. Be the impulse that they may lack, as a common symptom of depression is the inability to take action.