October 21, 2011

Say No To Drugs - What Helps for Depression

It is more and more common for clients to tell me they want to work on their mental health symptoms without the use of medications, especially in light of recent findings questioning the efficacy of several commonly prescribed antidepressants.  I like to support the goal of avoiding psychotropic medications in some situations.  While it is true that some disorders typically require medication (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia), especially those where the symptoms have reached severe levels (persistent suicidal thoughts, planning or intent), it is often a welcome sign that a person is interested in doing all they can, on their own, to feel better. 

So when I read this review on PsychCentral, written by Therese Borchard, I wanted to share a summary here for those of you who want to know what are some of the most effective ways to manage your depression without medication.  Although, I want to add, these are excellent suggestions for people taking medications as well.

Six Steps for Beating Depression
“The Depression Cure: 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs,”
by Stephen Ilardi

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids   Seafood, oils (flaxseed oil -unheated; canola or soybean oil for cooking), beans (kidney, pinto, mungo), nuts, seeds, spinach, winter squash, broccoli, cauliflower, dietary supplements (fish oil, flaxseed oil).

2. Engaged Activity  keeps us from ruminating, and ruminating causes depression.
Socializing, reading, hobbies, creating art, exercise of all kinds.

3. Physical Exercise    Research suggests 30 minutes  of brisk walking three times a week can be as effective as some medications AND exercisers are less likely to become depressed again later.    
Activities such as walking, biking, jogging, and weight lifting.  Exercise changes the brain. It increases the activity level of important brain chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin and a key growth hormone called BDNF. Because levels of this hormone plummet in depression, some parts of the brain start to shrink over time, and learning and memory are impaired. But exercise reverses this trend, protecting the brain in a way nothing else can.

4. Sunlight Exposure Important for keeping the body’s internal clock working properly. Without light exposure, the body clock gets out of sync, throwing off important circadian rhythms that regulate energy, sleep, appetite, and hormone levels. On average – a half hour of sunlight is enough to reset your body clock, even on gray, cloudy days.

5. Social Support   Relationships matter. The more satisfying the connections, the better. Think about ways to increase the number of people in your social network especially those you can confide in.

6. Sleep    Disrupted sleep is one of the most potent triggers of depression, and there’s evidence that most episodes of mood disorder are preceded by at least several weeks of subpar slumber.   Keep a sleep log.  Each morning write the estimated number of hours you slept the night before to include approximately how many times you woke up throughout the night and couldn’t get back to sleep for more than ~ten minutes.  

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