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Depression affects an estimated 350 million people worldwide. In the United States alone, an estimated 16 million people suffer from depression. That is about 7% of the population. Depression comes in many forms-major depression, persistent depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder, post-partum depression, psychotic depression-the list goes on.
The purpose of this post isn’t to go into detail on each form of depression, but rather to give you a basic overview of depression and its symptoms. I would also like to share my personal experience with depression as well as how I was able to wean myself off of antidepressants and treat my depression naturally.
I am not a doctor and this article is not intended to be medical advice. It is presented for informational purposes only.
What is Depression?
We all experience sadness and grief from time to time, but they usually don’t last. Depression is more-it is a period of overwhelming sadness accompanied by other emotional and physical symptoms.There is no one risk factor or cause for depression. Risk factors include:
- brain chemistry, hormones, or genetics
- low self-esteem
- anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- chronic illness
- substance abuse
- some prescription medications
- family history of depression
Just as the possible causes of depression vary, the symptoms vary from person to person, too. Emotional symptoms can include:
- feelings of sadness or emptiness that persist
- extreme irritability over minor things
- anxiety and restlessness
- anger management issues
- loss of interest in favorite activities
- fixation on the past or on things that have gone wrong
- thoughts of death or suicide
Depression has physical symptoms, too. Some of them are:
- insomnia or sleeping too much
- debilitating fatigue
- increased or decreased appetite
- weight gain or weight loss
- difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- unexplained aches and pains
Left untreated, depression can lead to:
- substance abuse
- headaches and other chronic pain
- phobias, panic disorders, anxiety attacks
- trouble at school or work
- family and relationship problems
- social isolation
- obesity due to eating disorders, raising the risk of heart disease and diabetes
- attempted suicide or suicide
Treatment for Depression
Depression is serious and should never be taken lightly. Almost 800,000 people die from suicide every year. Conventionally, depression is treated with antidepressant medication, psychological counseling, or a combination of the two. In more severe cases, transcranial magnetic stimulation or even electroconvulsive therapy may be used. You can Google those terms to find out more about them.
Antidepressants come with a list of side effects. These include:
- increased appetite and weight gain
- sexual problems
- fatigue and drowsiness
- dry mouth
- blurred vision
Another problem with medications is that they are not a cure. They only treats symptoms and if someone stops taking them, the symptoms come back. Some antidepressants can even make the depression worse. But untreated depression is dangerous. So what can you do?
My Journey with Depression
I was first diagnosed with depression in my early 20s, though in retrospect I believe I suffered from depression from the time I was about 10 or 11. My family has a history of depression, so I’m sure that was a major factor for me. I also attribute my depression to abandonment issues from my early childhood. My father has never been in my life, and that has always been very painful for me. It led to self-esteem and other issues. When I was diagnosed, I was not happy with my life. The job I had loved was quickly burning me out and I felt stuck.
Once diagnosed, I was prescribed Prozac. I was started at the lowest dose. It would work for a while, then I would need a higher dosage. Eventually I was at the highest dosage. My doctor put me on another antidepressant, though I don’t remember which one. This one made me very angry. I was crabby, to put it mildly, and my family didn’t want to be around me. I couldn’t blame them. After a month, my doctor tried another medication. I think I took that one for about 2 years. In that time, I resigned from my job and got married. I definitely felt that my life had moved forward. I also began to notice side effects from the medication that weren’t there before. So I wanted to make a change.
Natural Treatment Alternatives
I began by researching natural treatments for depression. (If you are a regular reader, you know how much I love to do research!) I love the book Prescription for Natural Cures. You can pick up a copy here. This book has helped me many times.
Sometimes depression is affected by what we eat. A healthy diet helps to create healthy brain chemistry. You may need to make radical changes to your diet, especially if you eat a lot of processed or fast foods. Eating enough protein will boost your energy levels. Caffeine and refined sugars may give you a temporary boost, but will lead to a crash, making you more exhausted or irritable. Try to minimize your intake of these foods. Food allergies can also contribute to the symptoms of depression. This article explains how an elimination diet can help you determine whether you have food allergies. One food I cut out is wheat. That dietary change helped reduce many of my health issues.
Supplements can help with depression, too. 5-hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP, taken with a good vitamin B complex worked wonders for me. Vitamin B6 is required for the 5-HTP to be metabolized. 5-HTP is a naturally occurring substance derived from the seed pods of griffonia simplicifolia, a West African medicinal plant. 5-HTP works by restoring serotonin levels and can improve general mood, depression, anxiety, insomnia,weight loss, pms, chronic headaches, and migraines. 50 mg taken 3 times a day is the recommended dosage. A couple of other helpful supplements are a good multivitamin and fish oil. Both contribute to general health and nutrition.
Other possibilities to consider are spending time outdoors. It’s helpful to get some sunshine each day, especially if you suffer from seasonal affective disorder. Regular exercise can improve depression. My husband and I walk as often as possible. We would like it to be every day, but we can’t always make that work. Build a good support group of friends and family. Sometimes just talking things over with someone you’re close to will lift your mood. Some people also like to keep a journal. Make the effort to do things you enjoy. Depression can make it hard to be interested in hobbies, but I have often found that one I push myself to get started, I enjoy whatever it is I’m working on. Do what you reasonably can to reduce stress in your life. Be sure to get enough sleep. Being tired will make depression worse. Essential oils are useful as well. I personally love lavender oil; it’s calming and helps me to sleep.
If you do stop taking antidepressant medications, it is important not to quit cold turkey. You should be weaned off gradually and this is best done under the advice of a doctor. Some of the antidepressants I took gave me the shakes and dizzy spells if I missed a day.
Be patient as you figure out what works for you. It may take a little trial and error when experimenting with treatments. Make a list of what does work for you when you figure it out. Sometimes on a bad day I don’t think about things that can help me. You will still have bad days. I do. Sometimes the difficulties and stresses of life get me down, or I’m down and don’t even know why. It’s going to happen. But it does pass. My husband is a huge help and support during these times. He is so patient with my bad moods and crabbiness. He also helps me by reminding me what I can do to help myself on the bad days. I don’t know what I would do without him.
What helps you with depression? Let me know in the comments!