As a Nutritional Therapist and Wellbeing Coach, I would estimate around 60% of the people I see have, or have had in the past, some degree of depression. Over the years I have been practicing, I would say this figure has been steadily growing. The reasons for this may be complex but in some cases it may well be to do with our increasingly fast paced lifestyles and our time spent using technology. This has a particularly significant part to play in the increase of mental health issues amongst young people who spend a huge amount of their time on social media which can feed into self-esteem issues and in turn can lead to depression.
DEPRESSION IS THE MOST PREDOMINANT MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEM WORLDWIDE, AHEAD OF ANXIETY, SCHIZOPHRENIA AND BIPOLAR DISORDER
Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year and 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem, such as depression, in any given week. These statistics suggest that you or someone you know is likely at some point in life to suffer from depression…
There are, of course, degrees of depression. MIND states: “Depression is a low mood that lasts for a long time, and affects your everyday life. In its mildest form, depression can mean just being in low spirits. It doesn’t stop you leading your normal life but makes everything harder to do and seem less worthwhile. At its most severe, depression can be life-threatening because it can make you feel suicidal or simply give up the will to live.”
UNDERLYING CAUSES OF DEPRESSION
There can be many underlying causes of depression. These include:
- Life events eg. bereavement, bullying, the end of a relationship
- Childhood trauma (Adverse Childhood Events)
- Other mental health problems eg. anorexia, PTSD
- Physical health problems (including those that significantly change lifestyle)
- Genetic inheritance
- Medication, drugs and alcohol
- Sleep, diet, lifestyle and exercise
TYPES OF DEPRESSION
Here are some specific types of depression:
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
this depression usually occurs in the winter with symptoms improving during Spring and Summer. (lifestyle, diet and supplements can help enormously here, especially vitamin D and omega 3)
continuous mild depression that lasts for two years or more. Also called persistent depressive disorder or chronic depression.
occurs during pregnancy.
Postnatal depression (PND)
occurs in the weeks and months after becoming a parent. Postnatal depression is usually diagnosed in women but it can affect men, too. The ratio of zinc to copper can be significant on a physical level and I have helped prevent women suffer with PND for a second time by addressing this imbalance.
this level of depression needs very specific help from a psychotherapist, as it can be life threatening when everything feels completely hopeless and suicidal thoughts come into play.
HOW IT FEELS TO BE SEVERELY DEPRESSED
Whilst there is a lot that can be done for depression in terms of lifestyle and nutritional measures together with wellbeing coaching, when depression is severe it is important to seek help from a professional who specialises in this area.
Therese Bouchard, a mental health writer and activist, says of severe depression:
“Getting through the day is an act of triumph when you are buried in the deep hole of depression – where staying alive consumes all of your energy
“You can’t wait for the storm to be over, you have to learn how to dance in the rain.”
Dancing in the rain demands perseverance and courage—going forward despite the evidence of difficulty and forecast of doom. It means not ending your life, even as death appears to be the only and ultimate relief. It requires the kind of courage that Mary Anne Radmacher describes when she says, “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow”
You can do this from bed if your depression is severe. Count to five while inhaling, and count to five while exhaling. If you do this slowly, you will breathe about five times a minute, which is called coherent breathing. This calms the sympathetic nervous system responsible for the fight-or-flight response.
Be kind to yourself
Tell yourself you’re doing the best you can, you haven’t given up, you’re strong, it WILL get better. This is not your glory hour, says Bouchard, but you’ve had several in the past. Remember those.
This may be necessary if the depression is really severe. Meditation, self help books, positive affirmations etc are all great and can, without doubt, help many move out of depression, but when depression’s really severe, these tools may actually be counterproductive. Brain imaging shows that when non-depressed people try to retrain their thoughts, or reframe negative emotions, they are often successful. The brain activity responsible for negative emotions in the amygdala decreases. However, when very depressed people try this, the activity increases. The more they try, the more activation in the amygdala.
For lots of people who experience depression, sleeping too little or too much can be a problem. Getting good quality sleep can help to improve your mood and increase your energy levels. A ‘digital detox’ a couple of hours before bed can be very helpful, as can specific supplements (see below)
Eating a balanced and nutritious diet can be transformational for some people suffering with depression, increasing energy levels and improving mood. Refined carbs and wheat can sometimes exacerbate depression, as can imbalanced blood sugar. A nutritional therapist can help you find a way of eating to suit you as an individual.
Many people find exercise a challenge when they’re depressed but gentle activities like yoga, swimming or walking can provide a boost to your mood.
Look after your hygiene
When you’re experiencing depression, small things, like taking a shower and getting fully dressed can make a big difference to how you feel. CBT therapists often get patients to monitor these small steps as part of recovery.
Avoid drugs and alcohol.
While you might want to use drugs (prescribed or otherwise) or alcohol to cope with any difficult feelings, in the long run they can make you feel a lot worse.
Getting the right help
It’s important to get professional help if you’re struggling. Psychotherapy, wellbeing coaching or nutritional therapy may all help but it’s important to find what’s right for you. It’s vital to address any emotional reasons behind the depression. Unless your depression is severe (see above), wellbeing coaching is brilliant for getting to the underlying causes and moving you forward in a very positive way, helping to create a vision of how your life can be.
ANTIDEPRESSANTS OR SUPPLEMENTS
My view is there may be better ways of helping depression. As already mentioned, wellbeing coaching or psychotherapy can help you address the underlying causes. In addition, supplements (along with eating well) can provide a very effective alternative to antidepressants that are non-addictive and without side effects. Many targeted supplements work almost immediately and, unlike antidepressants, you don’t need to wean yourself off them.
Here are some of the supplements that I have used with people suffering from depression and have seen very positive results. However, as everyone is different, it really is recommended you seek advice so that you find the right ones for you as an individual.
OMEGA 3, PROBIOTICS, MAGNESIUM, VITAMIN D and B VITAMINS all have research to demonstrate they can help with depression so incorporate regularly into your diet. However, as we often can’t get enough from diet alone you may benefit from therapeutic doses in the form of a supplement (especially in winter in the case of vitamin D which we primarily get from sunshine) Serotonin is made in the gut so it is vital to make sure you have a good level of beneficial bowel flora from a good probiotic.
I then often suggest the following in addition, sometimes in combination:
5-HTP increases the synthesis of serotonin and so is believed to play an important role in depression and insomnia too. I have seen this work so well for some people, and almost instantly – though it may not if low serotonin isn’t a factor.
I came across crocus sativus (or saffron) several years ago and have been suggesting it, when appropriate, with great success ever since. It is also great at helping balance hormones too. In placebo-comparison trials, when compared with antidepressant medications, it had similar antidepressant efficacy. Saffron’s antidepressant effects potentially are due to its serotonergic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, neuro-endocrine and neuroprotective effects.
Research suggests that Rhodiola is a better option than pharmaceuticals for the management of moderate depression. They discovered that the herb works better than placebo, and has fewer side effects than a common antidepressant. In another clinical trial, 150 people suffering from depression took Rhodiola, and two-thirds of them experienced full remission of their depressive symptoms. Researchers thinks rhodiola works by slowing down the breakdown of our “feel good” neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin.
Please bear in mind some of these supplements are contraindicated with certain medication and may not be suitable during pregnancy or when breast feeding, so consult a registered Nutritional Therapist.
If you are concerned about your mental health please contact a qualified specialist professional or organisation.