Depression: alternative solutions

MENTAL HEALTH

Hugh Macaulay / Community Columnist
May 12, 2014 01:56 PM

A diagnosis of depression can be devastating — or a relief.

Imagine that after a period of low mood, sadness, and general apathy, you have been seen by a qualified professional and told you have depression.

It would be understandable if you felt awful, for now you bear the stigma — all too prevalent — of mental illness.

At the same time, you may feel a sense of peace; the low mood that you could not explain now has a name. And that can be a comfort.

You will have a strong appetite for treatment, and that will be offered to you.

Managing depression will frequently involve a two-pronged approach: medication, and counseling.

Here is where you ought to stop, think, and do some research — perhaps obtain a second opinion. Because medication is not often anywhere near what you need most. Allow me to provide an example of incautious diagnosis and medical intervention.

Many years ago, I worked with a woman who’d been diagnosed with major depression based on her reports of several typical symptoms. She was subsequently given a very aggressive course of treatment.

After several medications failed to alleviate her symptoms, she was given a course of electro-convulsive therapy: ECT. This had no beneficial effect on her mood, but did manage to wipe away large blocks of memory.

Desperate, she sought alternative approaches. As a result, she lost 40 pounds of weight that needed to go; got treatment for a persistent sleep disorder; began to eat a more healthy diet; and started a rigorous exercise routine.

Within about 18 months, her depressive symptoms had gone, and she was competing in 10k runs. She continued to see a counselor.

The lesson here is that there are many causes of depressive symptoms, and a great many of those causes can be dealt with by non-pharmaceutical, common sense approaches. Many of these go hand-in-hand.

Exercise has a very powerful influence on mood. Walking, swimming, or running three days a week cause hormonal changes in your body, and these changes almost invariably cause an elevation in mood and a more positive outlook.

Most exercisers find the need to adopt a more wholesome diet, replacing unhealthy carbohydrates, salt, and sugar with fuel better suited to an athletic lifestyle. This is a good thing, because food and mood are as closely related as mood and physical activity.

A more active lifestyle frequently brings a new circle of friends and an end to the tendency of depressed people to isolate themselves. Such seclusion inevitably creates a self-destructive, negative, and introspective state of mind. Ending the isolation is a powerfully beneficial lifestyle choice.

However good these lifestyle changes may be, folks who have experienced years of depressive symptoms retain habits of mind that can bring about a return to chronic low mood. Thoughts and memories persist, but they can be managed.

I am a great believer in daily mindful meditative practice: a discipline that, in time, allows one to manage the ideas and thoughts that are often negative.

These practices have to be learned; they are skills. But fortunately, there are many resources on the Coast available for folks who are interested in this approach.  There are meditation groups, as well as skilled professional therapy available.

So, by all means take professional advice, but also consider rigorous lifestyle changes to better your mood.

Editor’s note: Hugh Macaulay is vice president of the Arrowhead Clubhouse in Sechelt. He writes monthly about mental health issues with a focus on the Sunshine Coast.


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