Traditionally depression has been treated with Cognitive/Behavioral Therapy or other forms of psychotherapy, and if severe, antidepressant medication prescribed by a physician. Today more people are looking onto options for all their health care, and emotional health is no exception. If you or someone you know is suffering from a deep depression with suicidal thoughts and unable to care for daily responsibilities, medical attention needs to be sought immediately. But for more mild forms of depression, or in compliment with other interventions, many alternative treatments have become popular.
One of the most publicized complimentary/alternative treatments for depression has been St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum). Many research studies (including well-conducted studies by Pharmanex laboratories) have suggested that for mild to moderate depression, this traditional herb, may have therapeutic benefit. It is imperative to discuss any herbal remedies or supplements with your physician, as many can have a negative interaction with other prescription medication you may need. Kava Kava, Ginko and SAM-e (for S-adenosylmethionine) have also received recent press. Although SAM-e received initial applause from the scientific community, more recent reassert showed it to be an unstable substance that tends to disintegrate if not properly processed.
Other well knows remedies for the “Blues” include exercise to increase endorphins and energy. Exercise also helps people feel better about their bodies and time outdoors can increase the vitamin D. Exposure to nature is also a wonderful way to relax and experience enhanced mood. Moderate exercise also helps the body systems work better to eliminate toxins, waste and excess water; this also can help a person feel better. Exercise is also a wonderful way to relieve physical stress held in the body that may be contributing to depression. Many people report after vigorous exercise they feel more energized and worry less about their problems.
Many medications can have a negative side effect of creating depression (even some antidepressants). It is important to ask your doctor if any of the medication you currently take (or combinations of medications) could be increasing depression. Discontinuing or lowering dosage, with doctor’s supervision of depression causing medications can enhance mood, especially in older adults. Alcohol is also a depressant. Eliminating alcohol from the diet can decrease depression and increase healthy sleep patterns.
Learning a new skill. When someone feels depressed the last thing they want to do is get out and try their hand at something they have never done before. But with encouragement, and even someone to go with, the self-concept of learning something new can make a world of difference. Some favorite depression dispelling activities are; painting, drawing, dancing, hiking, music appreciation, poetry writing, cooking, yoga, gardening, fishing, ceramics, needle pointing, and any other activities that inspire self-expression.
Another activity that is often healing for those feeling depressed, is group involvement. Once again, it may very difficult for a depressed person who has been isolating for weeks. But being in a group of others who are also struggling (with things it may seem the rest of the world finds easy) can help a person feel less alone and give them more compassion for their own situation.
Acupuncture has been researched for effectiveness with mood disorders and there appears to be help for some people. There are acupuncture points on the ear that correspond to mood or “spirit”, as the Chinese would say. When these specific, scientific points are stimulated with tiny needles, there is a change in the energy of the patient leading to enhance feelings of well being. These techniques are still being researched in the West and individual acupuncturists should be asked about their experience treating mood disorders.
Diet changes can make a profound change in the way a person feels. Often a patient is not willing to change long-standing eating patterns until they experience serious consequences, sometimes to the point of being impaired from normal daily activities or life seems unbearable. If a person has diabetes or hypoglycemia, abnormal blood sugar can have a dramatic impact on feelings of depression and hopelessness. It is important that blood sugar is monitored to remain as even as possible. If irregular blood sugar is a medical condition, it is very important to be under the care of a physician and to follow medical advice. Even if fluxuating blood sugar is not a medical condition, eating in ways that maintain an even level throughout the day can significantly enhance one’s feeling of energy and increased frustration tolerance. A qualified nutritional counselor can individualize eating plans to specifically address individual needs and food preferences.
Eating disorders have been known for a long time to correlate with mood swings, especially leading to depression and feeling bad about oneself. Going long periods of time without eating leads to lower frustration tolerance, agitation and feelings of helplessness. When someone eats “comfort food” that is high in sugar, salt and fat content the subsequent feelings can be discouragement, lethargy, fatigue, anger, frustration, loneliness, and depression. Changing these patterns can be very complicated and may need professional support and treatment. There are psychotherapists, physicians, nutritional counselors and nurse practitioners who specialize in helping those with eating disorders.
Biofeedback has been shown to be successful in treating the anxiety that often accompanies depression. Feeling more in control of one aspect of life (i.e., anxiety, panic attacks, free floating fear) can assist a person in feeling they have the energy and strength to address other areas of life. Learning to control fear and anxiety can lead to increased feelings of competency and effectiveness in the world.
Therapeutic Massage has also been shown to decrease feelings of depression. Not only does massage release tense muscles that often accompany depression, but toxins are moved through the body that may be causing feelings of lethargy and fatigue. People who are depressed and isolated often are deprived of human contact. Just being touched by another person in a caring therapeutic way can increase feelings of well being and hope. The relief from pain through massage for those with chronic pain can also ease the accompanying feelings of depression and anxiety.
Interactive Guided Imagery (a form of interactive hypnosis) can be used for addressing feelings of discouragement and self-doubt. In Guided Imagery, a patient, with the help of a therapist, chooses an image to represent the feeling or the event that is bothering them. They are then guided to take some productive action with that symbol. This technique is effective when the content of discouragement seems vague or overwhelming. Choosing a well-qualified Interactive Guided Imagery facilitator is essential.
New psychotherapy models have also been developed to address feelings of discouragement and sadness. Sand Tray Therapy can help a person express feelings they do not have words for. This form of symbolic therapy involves toys and small objects that patients can use to work through difficult feelings and gain a sense of mastery over their situation. It is symbolic much like dream work is used.
The therapists at The Nightingale Center in Yorba Linda, are trained to help patients set goals and encourage them as they put these plans into place. Often developing new habit patterns is an essential part of overcoming depression. Learning to say kind things to oneself, keeping an exercise program, or learning to enjoy new foods and eating habits, can all be assisted with the help of a therapist.
If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, ask for help. There are many new ways to address this illness. By asking your health care professional about depression you are taking the first step toward a positive change.
© 2000 Lois V. Nightingale, Ph.D.
Lois V. Nightingale, Ph.D. Psychologist, PSY 9503, Licensed Marriage Family Child Therapist, providing counseling services to individuals, family counseling, couples and marital therapy, child counseling and teen counsleing in Yorba Linda, Orange County, California