Depression In Society
Depression is a profound illness – it can be as debilitating as any physical malady. In that it can rob you of your appreciation of life, it is the ultimate thief. Even mild to moderate depression and anxiety can profoundly affect your ability to participate in normal life.
Many modern social factors influence depression. The social expectation that we ought to nearly always be happy is a relatively new phenomenon; part of depression probably stems from the very expectation that we SHOULD be happy all the time. Of course, the fact that TV, and the media in general, continuously repeat the message that we should be happy all the time (you know, like the people in the beer and soda commercials!) doesn’t help. Also, in the past, survival was a higher priority than happiness. Nature probably hardwired us to derive much of our happiness from a feeling of social connection from living in large extended families, clans, and tribes in order to help ensure our survival. Our modern culture, which is individual-oriented, isolating, and places the bulk of the social emphasis on the nuclear family, may be difficult to resolve with our genetic makeup. It is likely that people living 100 or 1000 or 10,000 years ago were more satisfied with their lots in life, because their options were much more limited (sometimes more choice is NOT better.) It is also likely that the pace and dehumanization of much of modern life, especially in the Tri-State area, does a great deal to bring out depression in those who are susceptible to it.
Depression: Problems in Diagnosis and Treatment
You may already know that depression is one of the most common conditions seen and diagnosed by physicians. What you may not know is that is also one of the most under- diagnosed, and over diagnosed, conditions in medicine. Its treatment is also highly problematic – many people experience unacceptable side effects from medications like Prozac, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Lexapro, Effexor, and other SSRIs and SNRIs. Others experience no benefit at all from these medications. Many of my patients are uncomfortable with the idea that they must stay on medication for the rest of their life simply in order to feel OK. Others, who’ve been on medication for some time, have found that medications that used to work, no longer work as well as they once did; that higher doses are necessary in order to achieve the same effect; or that only multiple medications work where a single agent had been effective before.
Fortunately, natural medicine has a great deal to offer to people who experience depression. From dietary therapies and nutrient supplementation, to herbal medicine to advanced treatments like Amino Acid Neurotransmitter Therapy, I am often able to help people feel better and either reduce or eliminate the need for prescription medication.
First, though, let me explain why depression is underdiagnosed. Many people who are depressed don’t know they’re depressed, because they think feeling tired and foggy-brained and “blue” is normal: Since there has been a pervasive sense of sadness or hopelessness all their life, they assume it is normal and that everyone feels this way. So, many people who are depressed will never ask for help, or they’ll be treated for fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue or perhaps for nothing at all. In such cases, a diagnosis of depression may be a key to pursuing effective treatment.
Conversely, depression is also overdiagnosed. Many people with chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia or other difficult to diagnose/difficult to treat conditions are given depression medication because their doctor doesn’t know what else to do. In fact, treatments for these conditions sometimes overlap. By way of example, I’ve had patients whose chronic fatigue was being treated with Prozac, but in fact they had a food allergy (that presented with the same symptoms as chronic fatigue syndrome.) In short, it is not uncommon for a patient to be told they are depressed when the doctor is unable to diagnose or treat the condition. Unfortunately, the patient in such a case often feels they are being told “it’s all in your head.” In such cases, diagnosis and treatment of depression is misguided. What the patient really needs is accurate diagnosis and treatment, so that the true cause of their symptoms can be addressed.
Depression: The Promise Of Naturopathic Medicine
There are many natural therapies that are helpful for depression. First, diet and nutrition are often remarkably effective, especially when a food allergy or food sensitivity is present. I have seen patients whose whole depression was caused by reactions to commonly eaten foods. Also, nutritional supplementation has helped many cases of depression. Second, herbal medicines can work very well. Most people have heard of St. John’s Wort for depression, though some may have been discouraged by a study that was widely reported in the media that showed St. John’s Wort was ineffective. Unfortunately, this study was flawed – the researchers did not understand the proper indications for St. John’s Wort, and no one in the natural medicine community was surprised by the results (it was akin to studying the effectiveness of children’s aspirin to cure a severe strep throat.) Both western and Chinese herbal therapies have a great deal to offer to the depressed patient. One of the most promising therapies for depression is Amino Acid Neurotransmitter Therapy, which uses amino acids, the building blocks of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, to help the body produce more of these chemicals that are essential to normal brain function and mood. Whereas SSRI and SNRI (among them, the medications listed in the second paragraph of this section) drugs cause your body to overuse what little neurotransmitters you already have (eventually resulting in decreased effects from the medication), amino acids gradually replenish your stores of neurotransmitters. This can make medication that wasn’t working become effective; can allow medication to be more effective; it can decrease the dosage of medication necessary for effective treatment; and over time, some people find they are able to get off medication altogether. I am a big fan of psychotherapy and counseling, both for the possibilities of increased emotional awareness and addressing the role behavioral changes can make in depression. Different types of psychotherapy can help different people. See our links page for more resources. Genetics plays a role in many cases of depression – but this does not mean there is nothing you can do about it, and it does not mean that it can only be cured with prescribed medication.
There is natural hope for depression. Please explore the rest of this website, to learn more about the general philosophy and practice of naturopathic medicine. Of course, I am happy to meet with you to discuss your particular situation, and to explore with you how I can help you feel your best.