Any kind of serious illness is difficult to deal with, but when it comes to mental illnesses such as depression, it can be devastating for both the victims and their family. Unfortunately, as we will discuss in this article, often the standard cure can be worse than the depression itself. However, there is hope for the depressed person and their loved ones.
What is Depression?
Depression is considered a mental illness that can negatively affect you both emotionally and physically.
Depression, technically a general name for a family of conditions known as “depressive disorders”, is a complex illness that is characteristically identified with feelings of hopelessness and despair, as well as a loss of interest in things that once were pleasurable to you. Depression is more than feeling down or having the blues. It is normal for all human beings to feel this way at times, but clinically depressed people often have no identifiable event that they can point to for feeling sad, and their struggles tend to be ongoing and life-controlling.
Depression is a major health concern in this country and is thought to affect approximately 16 million Americans every year. Between health care costs and lost productivity, statisticians estimate that depression costs the United States economy about $80 billion annually. Untreated or misdiagnosed depression is the number one cause of suicide as well, so the stakes for managing this illness are extremely high. Is depression an equal opportunity condition? Not really. Twice as many females (about 25% of the female population) will experience at least one bout with major depression, and about 10-20% of those will go on to struggle with it on a chronic basis. The figures for males tell us that about one out of eight will have an acute depressive episode, with about 5-10% of those having to deal with it throughout their lifetimes. Folks of any age, from children to senior citizens, can become depressed, but the average age of the first onset is about the mid-20’s.
What Are the Symptoms of Depression?
The two most definitive signs of depression are:
- A depressed mood, which may manifest itself as overwhelming feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or despair, and is sometimes accompanied by crying spells.
- Apathy towards daily activities that once used to bring enjoyment and satisfaction.
In addition to these two hallmarks of depression, there are many other common symptoms, some of which are specific to certain types of depression or certain age groups:
- Fatigue: Many depressed people have very low energy levels, and feel as if they were “carrying a piano on their backs.” They are not refreshed by sleep, but may feel continuously burned-out, physically and mentally. Some will even move and speak more slowly than normal, and tend to talk in monotones.
- Changes in sleep patterns: This can go either way. Some depressed folks will struggle with insomnia, while others may sleep too much. Many patients find that they wake up during the night and are not able to get back to sleep.
- Changes in appetite: This can lead to either weight gain or loss. Some depressed people overeat to find comfort, and others will shy away from food.
- Morbid thoughts: Depression can be accompanied by obsessive thoughts about your own death, the death of others, or committing suicide. These thoughts are fueled by a consistently negative and hopeless view of life and the future.
- Relational issues: Depressed people will often withdraw from others, especially family members and close friends. Spouses will often lose interest in intimate relations and/or spending quality time with their partner.
- Poor self-image: Depression often leads to excessive guilt (often false guilt), and feelings of unworthiness and worthlessness.
- Cognitive difficulties, such as confusion, anxiety, unclear thinking, memory lapses, and inability to make decisions are common.
- Irritability: Depressed people can become uncharacteristically agitated, restless, and easily angered.
- Physical concerns: A variety of ailments can afflict a depressed person, such as headaches, heartburn, constipation or diarrhea, and backaches.
- In children and teens: Kids have some distinct ways of indicating or experiencing depression. They may develop irrational fears (such as the death of a parent), behavioral problems, difficulties in school, refusal to attend school, or they may pretend to be sick. Children may also seem unusually angry or irritated if they are depressed.
- Senior citizens who are depressed tend to focus more on their physical troubles, and are often unwilling to discuss their emotional issues.
- Suicide, unfortunately, is all to often associated with depression. More females than males attempt suicide, but more males are successful. Thus, the suicide rate is four times higher for men than for women. Men over the age of 70 have the highest incidence of suicide.
What Types of Depression Exist?
There are many different kinds of depressive disorders, but basically there are two main types of depression: Major depression, and dysthymia.
- Major depression is a depressive mood disorder that is acute in nature. To be diagnosed with major depression, a patient must experience symptoms for at least a two-week period. Episodes may consist of varying degrees of depression, from moderate to severe. Many victims of major depression find it difficult to function normally. Suicide is a possible risk for patients suffering from major depression.
- Dysthymia (dis-THI-me-uh) is usually less severe in nature, but is more chronic and tends to be ongoing. Cycles of dysthymia typically tend to rotate between depression and periods of feeling “normal.” The mood changes are often not extreme enough to disable a person, but still have a significant impact on the quality of one’s life. Dysthymia is often found in conjunction with other depressive disorders and psychiatric conditions such as social phobias, panic and anxiety disorders, and substance abuse. Some patients are diagnosed with both major depression and dysthymia, and this is commonly called “double depression.” Dysthymia is also associated with certain physical illnesses such as AIDS, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, postcardiac transplantation, and hypothyroidism (low thyroid function).
The three other most common types of depressive disorders are:
Bipolar disorder: Formerly known as manic-depressive disorder, this form of depression is characterized by cycles of mania (elated, elevated moods) and depression. It involves both extremes (poles) of moods, and thus gets its name. When in the manic phase, patients may act impulsively and grandiose, as well as have times of creativity and great productivity. The depressive phase is similar to other types of depression. Some patients alternate mania and depression, but not all do. Bipolar may affect come in several cycles of mania or depression, followed by the opposite “pole.” And the patterns may change up on people, making it even harder to manage.
Adjustment disorders: This might be called “normal depression,” so to speak, because it is usually found in conjunction with a major life stressor that most people would normally be depressed about. Examples might include the death of a spouse or child, diagnosis of a major health problem, or divorce. Healthy individuals will go through the grieving process, adjust, and come out of the depression. However, when a person stays depressed under these conditions, they may be diagnosed with an adjustment disorder, either acute (under six months in duration), or chronic (over six months). The trigger(s) for an adjustment disorder may be one event or a combination of issues that result in chronic stress.
Seasonal Affective Disorder: Also known as SAD, this type of depression is relatively common, and is caused by seasonal fluctuations in the amount of daylight a person is exposed to. SAD may stand alone, or be associated with other types of depression and psychiatric disorders. For those who live in northern climates and don’t see much sun during the winter months, treatment with special lamps is very effective for many folks with SAD.
What Are the Causes of Depression?
This is a very complex question, and the answer is partly dependent on the type of depression and the circumstances surrounding it. However, researchers have discovered some generalities:
- Many cases of depression are thought to be triggered by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Certain substances called neurotransmitters are key to how the brain communicates with nerve cells. Imbalances in three particular neurotransmitters seem to be linked to depression: serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Putting the brain back into a state of chemical balance is very helpful to many depressed people. HOW this is done (medication vs. natural alternatives) is a crucial topic, which we will discuss below.
- Heredity could be a factor in depression. Genes have been discovered that are specifically linked to bipolar disorder. Beyond that, if you have a history of depression in your family, you might be more likely to develop it yourself. Watching a family member go through depression can be difficult. A child who watches a depressed parent or sibling may learn to mimic that person’s behavior under certain conditions. But does that mean that you also will get the condition? Not necessarily. For most people “heredity depression” has more to do with environment (learned behavior) such as continually being around a person who has depression than is does a true physiological development.
- Hormone Imbalance is suspected to play a role as well, although exactly how is not totally understood. We do know that women are about twice as likely to suffer from depression as men, so it would seem logical that hormone imbalance is involved.
- Substance abuse: People who use and abuse drugs like nicotine, alcohol, and prescription medicines have a higher risk for depression. Researchers are not sure if depressed people become addicted in an attempt to self-medicate, or if the drug abuse actually causes the depression. It probably works both ways in some cases.
- Co-occurrence – Depression is more likely to occur along with certain illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis.
- Situational – Difficult life events, including divorce, financial problems or the death of a loved one can contribute to depression.
What Treatments Are Available for Depression?
Pharmaceutical companies and many doctors make an obscene amount of money selling prescription medications to those who suffer from depression. The concern is that when doctors prescribe powerful antidepressant drugs, it’s often a hit and miss process whereby patients become inundated with a chemical soup that gets their brain chemistry so messed up that it’s far worse than before the medications. Antidepressant medications come with a tremendous amount of side effects. Some of the available antidepressants are known to cause suicidal behavior, especially in children and older adults. I would be very careful about using prescription antidepressants for depression especially from a trigger-happy doctor who offers medication every time tears fall. I’m not saying there are no instances when medication is needed or helpful, but the vast majority of depressed people would be far better off if they stayed away from these drugs. Fortunately, there are natural remedies for depression such as dietary changes, supplementing with vitamin D3 and B vitamins, and making certain lifestyle changes.
Natural Alternatives for Depression
If the goal is to get the brain back into a state of chemical balance, there is a much more natural and safe alternative. Orthomolecular therapy is a treatment for depression based on bolstering low levels of certain nutrients within the body. Linus Pauling was one of the first proponents of orthomolecular therapy. He believed that most mental illness was caused by low levels of B vitamins especially vitamin B-12, vitamin C, or folic acid. Supplementation with certain amino acids (tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylalanine) is also helpful. The theory behind such treatments is that if we give the body enough of the natural nutrients that it is lacking, it will heal and support itself — a drastically different approach to typical conventional medicine.
Other Natural Alternatives for Depression to Research
- Essential Fatty Acids such as pure fish oils and/or flax seed oil
- Vitamin B-12 & B Complex
- St. John’s wort
- Lithium Orotate recommended by Dr. Hans Nieper
- Adaptogen Herbs
- Magnesium Orotate
- Vitamin D3 – Get your levels checked
- L-Theanine – found in green tea
- Light Therapy – 30 minutes in sunlight every day
- Folic Acid
- Get your hormones checked and balanced – saliva test sex hormones and adrenal and serum test thyroid
- Massage Therapy
- Tapping Therapy
- Music Therapy
Liver Health – Keeping your liver supported is also imperative. Using a high quality herbal liver support supplement such as Livatrex™ can help the liver to perform its very important job of filtering toxins out of the body. Many practitioners miss this all-important step in helping clients with depression.
Healthy Diet – Diet is foundational in supporting your body’s natural healing abilities. A healthy, plant-based diet that includes lots of organic fruits and vegetables and essential fatty acids is imperative. Kick the refined sugar habit to the curb. I refer to refined sugar as the “legal” mind-altering drug of America. It not only brings your immune system down but because of the insulin ups and downs it causes, it wrecks havoc with your emotional health much like that of cocaine.
If you have ever wondered why you crave refined carbohydrates and sugars when you’re feeling sad, it’s because high carbohydrate foods trigger a release of serotonin. Serotonin is a natural opioid that acts in your brain similarly to the drug opium. Although these foods seem to improve your mood for a while, they will eventually lead to weight gain, sleep concerns, the overgrowth of candida (yeast) as well as low energy levels all of which make your depression symptoms worse.
Final Thoughts About Depression
Depression is a very difficult health issue, but it doesn’t have to be carried alone. If you struggle with depression, don’t be afraid to ask for the help and support of loved ones. Just taking that first step to get started can seem to be a very high hurdle to get over, but with the help of loved ones and a trusted natural healthcare practitioner this hurdle will be much easier to get over. Be very careful about prescription medications that are handed out like candy once you are labeled as “depressed.” There are alternatives that can work without the risk of becoming dependent and suffering through horrible side effects. Research these alternatives. Remember applied knowledge is power!
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