Depression is a tricky subject. On the one hand conventional medicine has become strongly specialised in its treatment, on the other hand more and more people fall victim of poor mental health. Diagnosing depression is also questionable. Since there is no standard diagnostic criteria, it’s at the doctor’s descretion to determine if one needs help, usually in the form of medication. Anti-depressants are hugely profitable and, although sometimes needed, they don’t address the root cause, unless one suffers from Prosac deficiency. It’s rare to see depression being treated as a symptom of deeper underlying issues.
WHAT IS DEPRESSION?
Signs and symptoms of depression include but are not limited to:
- persistent sadness, withdrawal, feeling of doom and gloom
- self-harm or suicidal thoughts
- anxiety, panic attacks, fear
- addictive behaviour (drugs, sugar, alcohol, food)
- insomnia or oversleeping
- decreased or increased appetite
- poor energy or restlessness
- brain fog
- lack of motivation
- lack of mental clarity
Hiding at home, over-watching TV or regularly engaging in other purposeless activities while sipping on copious amounths wine are some of the subtle signs that something’s going on. Oftentimes people struggle to find the right words to describe their symptoms which makes them ‘unqualifiable’ for treatment. In other words, there is a gray area where many are stuck without a solution. And yet, this is exactly the place where preventative measures should be taken to avoid a breakdown.
DEPRESSION FROM THE NATUROPATHIC AND FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE PERSPECTIVE
Depression is a limiting word. I think that ‘lack of mental vitality’ comes a lot closer to what it really is.
From a naturopathic and functional medicine perspective, this lack of vitality has multiple possible causes and each case should be treated individually:
- impaired digestion leading to nutrient deficiencies, e.g. cholesterol, vit A, D, K2, essential fatty acids, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, antioxidants, certain amino-acids
- mpaired detoxification
- gut-brain axis dysfunction: microbial imbalance in the gut can lead to increased intestinal permeability (‘leaky gut’), permeable blood-brain barrier (‘leaky brain’) and eventually brain inflammation which feeds back to the gut
- unstable blood glucose levels leading to decreased brain energy and neurotransmitter production
- underactive thyroid
- hormonal imbalance
- biochemical, structural and emotional stress
- diet rich in pro-inflammatory foods and social toxins
- poor circulation leading to poor brain oxygenation
- brain injury
As seen above, brain biochemistry is determined by multiple factors. The question then arises: what if depression was misunderstood? What if it wasn’t a mood disorder but a protective mechanism and a state of hibernation to store energy that has been chronically depleted by other factors? Is mood enhancement really the key point before the necessary steps are taken to address the root cause? This is where I support my clients to put their puzzle together and restore overall balance through a personalised, integrated approach.
SELF-HELP FOR MENTAL VITALITY
Thankfully, there are some initial steps that can be taken without my help. If possible, it’s best to seek support from the close ones during the most crucial time of breaking the vicious cycle as the start is never easy.
– Whole foods: they have no list of ingredients; they are ingredients. Things to watch out for include: gluose and fructose syrup, anything that ends with -ose, flavour enhancers, E’s, and generally anything you don’t understand the meaning of. If your grandma wouldn’t know it, don’t eat it.
– Digestion in check: observe your body and see what foods make you bloated or change your bowel habits. Quit these foods until digestion gets better. A little water with a splash of raw apple cider vinegar, digestive enzymes and certain probiotics can help tremendously.
– Basic elimination: ditch added sugar, wheat, commercial cow’s dairy and plant oils like sunflower or rapeseed. These are known inflammatory triggers and most people notice a big relief when avoiding these.
– Sleep: realistically, try and go to bed by 23:00 and get up by 07:00, at least mid-week. Organs regenerate at specific times so it’s not just the length of sleep that matters. Put your phone or alarm clock away so that you have to get up to turn it off.
– Wi-Fi: turn off your modem and data transfer for the night; it can do wonders to the sleep quality.
– Movement: move your body in a way that you enjoy – gym and fitness classes are not for everyone.
– Natural light exposure: it’s important that the sun rays hit your retina as much as possible, even when it’s cloudy.
– Friends and community: surround yourself with like-minded people who lift you.
– Therapist: they are there for YOU and will help you address your specific root cause – mental, emotional of physical.
By Maya Flynn