Depression is an illness which affects millions of people around the world. When suffering from depression, the tendency for people seeking relief is to firstly look towards medication. Over the years I have softened my viewpoint on medication with regards to mental health. I now stand on the philosophy of if it works that is great.
However, for too many people medications either do not work at all or the side effects are worse than the depression itself. The latter can often lead to a vicious cycle of taking more and more pills. A lot of people are not aware that there are other options which do not involve medication that can be used to treat depression effectively. These are typically classified as natural remedies which often have the added bonus of not having any side effects.
Often these natural remedies have scientific credence behind them. Yet, they are often neglected or at best employed as a second or third line of defence against the effects of depression. It is quite possible that societies biases are at play where medical options are viewed as superior, even though that frequently is not the case. The natural remedies listed below have been demonstrated to be at least as effective or better than medication in treating depression.
That said, and as I earlier alluded to, medication is not a total loss. For some people, it works remarkably well. It allows these people to function at higher levels than they would if not on medication. Similarly, a combination of natural methods and medications works very well in some people. I have been known to suggest in therapeutic sessions that some medications for a period of time may help alleviate the symptoms of depression. Thereby allowing therapy to find a place in the psyche that may not have been there if medications were not employed.
I do not think of depression as a disease nor do I think of it as a choice. It acts more like a complex disorder where the physiology, psychological and social all seem to play their parts in the making of the disorder. In addition, the choice argument presumes that people have a 50/50 choice in getting better. For example, its often assumed that a depression sufferer who has difficulty getting out of bed has a 50/50 choice to do so. This type of black and white think is not helpful and to be frank is an ignorant view of a very complex issue.
The reality of depression is that frequently it feels more like a 99/1 choice with only the 1 percent in favour of getting out of bed. Depression carries a great weight indeed. The mind can be foggy thus making it difficult to think clearly and wisely. The person can be in a habitual negativity pattern that is very difficult to break free from. It’s nowhere near as simple as thinking positive thoughts or being in the now. Depression is closer to a destructive rigid pattern in which the person often has little control over.
It is not all doom or gloom though. As neuroscience has repeatedly demonstrated, our brains are very malleable. When the right conditions occur the brains physiology can change remarkably. For example, research has indicated that exercise, light, touch, meditating to name a few can alter the brains physiology. These changes can then lead to an increase in wellbeing countering some of the debilitating effects of depression.
A good approach to take in regards to depression, is to view it as building habits which will impact positively in life. It by no means is easy, as often people are starting from way back, but it can be done with some persistence and willingness. Think of it as changing that 1% figure to 2% and then to 5% and so on. If you cannot exercise for 30 minutes, start with 5. Same for meditation and the rest.
Think to yourself, this is not going to be easy, and I will not feel like, but I am going to go for a bit of a walk today. Then build it up from that initial base day after day after day. As promised here are some natural methods which do not involved medications or drugs which can help deal with depression. These are not cures as such, just like medications are not cures, but they can improve the quality of life by alleviating many of the symptoms of depression.
For many depression sufferers exercising will be the last thing on a person’s mind. Yet the benefits of exercise have been demonstrated by research time and time again. Exercise has been found to not only help alleviate the symptoms of depression but also aids in its prevention. Moderate forms of exercise can work wonders on the body and mind. While difficult to initiate, bear in mind that people can build towards a 30-minute daily exercise routine.
Start with 3 ten-minute exercise periods split up over the day. It may be easier to motivate oneself if split up in this manner.
Ask a friend to go on daily walks with you. Not only does it help with the social aspects of depression it is easier to stick to a routine if done with a friend.
Get a dog, take it for a walk. You get the benefit of exercise and a pet that will love you with all its heart.
Be as active as you can. Walk around the house for a few minutes, step out into the garden for a brief period. Anything that promotes movement is great.
Go swimming if you have a pool or access to one. Take up yoga or Tai Chi.
Surrounding oneself in nature has been linked to lower levels of depression. Like exercise it has a preventative effect as well. It can take as little as 20 minutes a day of being in nature to change the pattern of depression.
Like exercise there is an opportunity to be creative. Go with a friend, take your dog for a walk, hug a tree, kiss flowers, take in as much beautiful scenery as you can bear. And there is another benefit of being in nature. That would be immersion in light.
Another one of those natural therapies that does not get the credit it deserves. I had a client who once suffered from depression, specifically seasonal affective depression (depression in winter mainly due to lack of sunlight). It turned out that her house was darkened to such a point that hardly any light was getting in. Let there be Light! And the depression gradually dissipated.
There seems to be a link between some cases of depression and vitamin D. Lower levels of vitamin D were correlated with higher incidents of depression. The production of vitamin D comes about from sunlight exposure. This exposure means getting outside. The lady who I treated for depression also went outside on a daily basis after some time. Light tends to brighten us.
There is also a form of therapy know as light therapy, which has been successfully used in the treatment of seasonal affective depression. If a person suffers from this form of depression, getting a light box is not the worst thing they can do.
Yes, it’s difficult to be grateful when your depressed. No doubt about this. Start small and build is my mantra on this subject. It is going to be difficult at times, acknowledge that and just do you best, when you can. Keep persisting is a key to overcoming life’s difficulties as it is in the fight against depression.
There is a body of evidence which suggests that being grateful and for that matter being kind can positively influence the state of depression. Express your gratitude to people via mail or emails or dare I say it, in person!
Find small things to be grateful for. Take some time to really taste good food. Smell a flower, notice when your pet is being affectionate. Notice when people are trying to be helpful. See how that blanket keeps you warm, or that long shower relaxes you. There are many things we can be grateful for if we start to pay attention to our lives.
A really good practice is to keep a gratitude journal and each day write the experiences of gratitude that appear in your life. Or write 3 things to be grateful for in the day just experienced.
Research has indicated that mindfulness mediation is as good as strong medication in treating depression. Mindfulness mediation is a form of meditation where a person watches or observes their current experience as it occurs. In this practice it is necessary to take a non-judgmental approach to whatever occurs in experience. Let everything be just as it arises, no matter if it’s a good or negative experience. If you find that your mind drifts and it most certainly will, just bring your attention back to your current experience.
When teaching this form of meditation, I might ask the person to initially pay attention to what is occurring in the body. I do not mean a cursory glance at what is happening physiologically, but paying real close attention to the body. We might then move to emotions or thoughts, or sounds outside, or what they see. Our capacity to be more present in life becomes greater by utilizing this technique.
Once we get a hang of this meditation technique we can incorporate into our daily lives. For example, some people like to practice mindfulness when they cook.
There are many YouTube videos and articles on the internet on mindfulness that can help integrate this practice into life.
I am a little bias here as I work in this field. That aside, there is considerable evidence that therapy can lead to a reduction in depression. Sometimes the depression is never seen again. A type of therapy called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is often used in treating depression. In this form of therapy, thoughts are believed to impact on mood. And indeed they most certainly can. Both cognition and behaviour can affect people negatively. The therapist’s aim is to help the client come to a more positive pattern of thoughts and behaviours. This change helps the patient combat depression. It is used with good success rates when treating depression.
There are other types of therapies which can also help. For example, a therapist may have to work with a client who has a foggy mind. In order for CBT to be effective, the foggy mind has to be cleared first.
Frequently, at the heart of depression, is repressed anger, hatred, resentment, murderous rage, grief, betrayal or abandonment. There literally are a myriad of possibilities in this regard. The therapist may choose to work with a more in depth psychotherapeutic approach.
If people can afford it, therapy can literally be a life saver. It can help motivate people to do the techniques and practices mentioned above. It can help shed light on dysfunctional patterns that no longer serve a person’s interest or wellbeing. Skills can be built and enhanced to combat therapy.
Often therapists will work on a sliding scale if people are experiencing financial difficulties. I am not sure about overseas, but in Australia there are low cost therapeutic services available. If seeing a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist the fee can be paid via Medicare for up to 10 sessions. There are usually some lower cost options available to people, so do not discount therapy out of hand because it may seem expensive.
I hope this article helps a little in the fight against depression. Try and take it easy on yourself. If you find you cannot do a task or achieve a goal, just reset and try again the next day. Do not be hard on yourself and try and develop a little self kindness for fighting a good fight. Your still alive after all.
If you have any questions or want to add something constructive to the discussion, just leave a comment or email me. Below are some references used in the construction of this article and also for those people interested in further reading:
Gander-Rene, F.; Proyer, T.; Ruch, W. & Wyss, T. (2012) Strength-based positive interventions: Further evidence for their potential in enhancing well-being and alleviating depression. Journal of Happiness Studies, DOI 10.1007/s10902-012-9380-0
George Mammen, Guy Faulkner. Physical Activity and the Prevention of Depression. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2013; 45 (5): 649 DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2013.08.001