But therapy proved emotionally draining and often left her feeling worse. The medications were either ineffective or lost their effectiveness over time, and they often had terrible side effects that made normal life impossible.
And then she discovered running. She soon experienced dramatic improvement in her mood and her life. To read her full story, click on the link below.
Like many of you, I have been personally affected by depression. Someone very near and dear to me suffered from this problem many years ago, and actually made several unsuccessful suicide attempts that were truly devastating.
The Washington Post article linked above does a very thorough job of relaying just how tragic this illness can be on a person’s life, and I highly recommend reading the article in its entirety.
Depression is expected to be the second leading cause of disability for people of all ages by 2020, so this is an issue that impacts many, many people.
Fortunately, there are very effective, safe and natural treatment options available, including exercise, which I’ll detail shortly. But first a bit of background on depression, including how to determine if you or a family member is being affected.
What Causes Depression and What are the Symptoms?
The cause of depression is thought to be a disruption of your brain’s neurochemistry. Central norepinephrine neural pathways in your brain play a role in vigilance, motivation and energy levels. These pathways are associated with serotonin neural pathways, which are involved in controlling impulsivity, and share a role with the dopamine pathways in appetite, sex and aggression.
In general, an unhealthy lifestyle is more common among those depressed than those who are not. Additionally, children of those with depression are thought to have increased rates of behavior problems and lower levels of self-esteem than children with mothers who do not have depression.
Depression is much more than just feeling blue once in a while. One set of diagnostic criteria commonly used to assess depression is known as "SIGECAPS,” which stands for sleep, interest, guilt, energy, concentration, appetite, psychomotor and suicide.
If four or more of these items are a concern, it indicates major depression. However, other criteria, such as watching for symptoms other than just mood change and obtaining supporting information from family members, is important.
Here is a quick reference of the diagnostic criteria used for depression, adapted from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition:
1. The patient has depressed mood (e.g., sad or empty feeling) or loss of interest or pleasure most of the time for 2 or more weeks plus 4 or more of the following symptoms:
Sleep: Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day
Interest: Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in nearly all activities most of the time
Guilt: Excessive or inappropriate feelings of guilt or worthlessness most of the time
Energy: Loss of energy or fatigue most of the time
Concentration: Diminished ability to think or concentrate, indecisiveness most of the time
Appetite: Increase or decrease in appetite
Psychomotor: Observed psychomotor agitation/retardation
Suicide: Recurrent thoughts of death/suicidal ideation
2. The symptoms do not meet criteria for mixed episode (major depressive episode and manic episode)
3. The symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning
4. The symptoms are not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication) or a general medical condition
5. The symptoms are not better accounted for by bereavement
The Best Kept Secret for Treating Depression
As Daniele Seiss was able to discover on her own, regular exercise is one of the “secret weapons” to overcoming depression. It works so well because it helps to normalize insulin resistance while boosting “feel good” hormones in your brain.
In one study, which involved 80 adults aged 20 to 45 years who were diagnosed with mild to moderate depression, researchers looked at exercise alone to treat the condition and found:
Depressive symptoms were cut almost in half in those individuals who participated in 30-minute aerobic exercise sessions, three to five times a week after 12 weeks
Those who exercised with low-intensity for three and five days a week showed a 30 percent reduction in symptoms
Participants who did stretching flexibility exercises 15 to 20 minutes three days a week averaged a 29 percent decline
The results of this study are similar to that of other studies, which involved patients with mild or moderate depression being treated with antidepressants or cognitive therapy -- proving patients need not rely on drugs to treat depression.
As Dr. James S. Gordon, MD, a world-renowned expert in using mind-body medicine to heal depression, said:
“What we’re finding in the research on physical exercise is, the physical exercise is at least as good as antidepressants for helping people who are depressed … physical exercise changes the level of serotonin in your brain.
It changes, increases their levels of “feel good” hormones, the endorphins. And also -- and these are amazing studies -- it can increase the number of cells in your brain, in the region of the brain, called the hippocampus.
These studies have been first done on animals, and it’s very important because sometimes in depression, there are fewer of those cells in the hippocampus, but you can actually change your brain with exercise. So it’s got to be part of everybody’s treatment, everybody’s plan.”
Yes, regular, appropriately intense exercise is a must for most people suffering from depression, and it can go a long way to improving your mood. However, it is still only one part of my overall recommendations for treating depression.
Three More “Secrets” for Treating Depression
Overcoming depression is usually a matter of integrating key natural therapies into a treatment program that feels right for you. Along with regular exercise, the other key steps include:
1. Optimize Your Diet
This includes taking high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fats such as krill oil daily, and eliminating most sugar and grain from your diet, as these will increase your risk of insulin resistance, which is linked to depression (and diabetes).
Researchers have discovered a positive connection between higher levels of insulin resistance and severity of depressive symptoms in people with impaired glucose tolerance, even before the occurrence of diabetes.
Based on these findings, it was suggested that insulin resistance could be the result of an increased release of counter-regulatory hormones linked to depression.
2. Embrace Techniques to Help Manage Your Emotions
Stress and other negative emotions are one of the main causes of depression, so you must learn how to manage these in order to feel better. My favorite method of emotional relief is Meridian Tapping Technique (MTT), a form of psychological acupressure that you can learn how to do yourself.
However, if you have depression or serious stress it would be best to consult with a mental health professional who is also an MTT practitioner to guide you.
There are other stress-management methods out there as well, such as meditation, journaling, breathing exercises, yoga, or simply sharing your feelings with a close friend. Ideally, pick the method that feels best for you, or combine several methods and rotate them.
3. Optimize Your Vitamin D Levels
Have you ever noticed how great it can feel to spend time outdoors on a sunny day? Well, it turns out that getting safe sun exposure, which allows your body to produce vitamin D, is great for your mood.
One study even found people with the lowest levels of vitamin D were 11 times more prone to be depressed than those who received healthy doses.
So you can add optimizing your vitamin D levels, either by sunlight exposure, a safe tanning bed or taking a high-quality vitamin D supplement, to your list of depression fighters.
Finally, if you or someone you love is currently struggling with depression, I highly suggest reading Dr. Gordon’s book Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression. It contains valuable insights to help you overcome this illness and is an incredibly useful tool to add to your mental health arsenal.
Again, if left untreated depression can have a devastating impact on just about every aspect of your life. So please do learn and use the natural treatments I suggest above, but ideally do so with the support and guidance of a knowledgeable natural health care practitioner.