It's like a black hole that occasionally swallows me up, from out of nowhere. I can't work, I can't sleep--and yet I can't stay awake--I can't take care of myself, and all the color and hope drains from the world.
"It" is depression, and for me it's a chronic condition that cost me jobs and relationships before I finally found effective help. For me that help was pharmaceutical, but I use several natural methods as well to keep the black hole at bay.
I'm not alone. Depression affects millions of people worldwide and can range from being fairly mild to completely devastating. It's estimated that a quarter of all American women will suffer from clinical depression at some point in their lives, and that women are twice as likely to suffer from it as men. Only 30 percent of depressed people get any form of treatment at all, which is a big mistake. Without treatment, the frequency and severity of symptoms tend to increase over the years--just like other diseases. Take depression seriously. It can be just as deadly as cancer, especially in the elderly.
While there are a variety of drugs available to help control the symptoms of this disease, they often have unpleasant side effects and can be hard to tolerate for some sufferers. In days past, antidepressants often carried a stigma with them, causing users to suffer harassment and possibly lose potential jobs. And while times have changed, in some parts of the world, they haven't changed enough.
To avoid the problems associated with poor mental health and the side effects of traditional medicine, many depression sufferers decide to go the natural route. They look for alternative treatments to use in place of regular pills, or they consult with natural health care providers.
Natural depression treatments have several advantages to them. They tend to be cheaper than the average antidepressant, though the oldest selective serotonin uptake inhibitor (SSRI), Prozac, is now a generic drug and quite inexpensive. Natural treatments are available without a prescription, which means instead of having to see your doctor for a refill, you can simply head to the nearest natural supplement or health store to get what you need, depending on the treatment you have chosen.
Even so, choosing a treatment may not be something you should undertake on your own. Herbs and supplements are effective medicines, and sometimes have side effects and drug interactions of their own. If you take ANY other medications, be sure to consult with your health care practitioner before adding any supplement for whatever reason. And if your depression appears to be deepening, take it seriously. Get help. Talk with your practitioner and get a referral to someone with expertise in treating depression.
One of the most renowned natural antidepressants is St. John's wort. This herb has been used for centuries to treat mild to severe depression, ranking in some studies to be as effective as some SSRIs. It comes in capsules, tablets or in a tea. The tea is probably the weakest of the three choices, but it is easy enough to replace your morning Earl Grey with a cup of depression treatment! The downside to this natural treatment is that it can affect your oral birth control and some women have found that the Pill is no longer effective when taking this herb.
Ginseng and ginkgo are two other herbs that have been proven to relieve depression symptoms, particularly in the elderly. They can be used separately, but are best together. The herbs come in capsule or tablet form as well and are pleasant smelling as well as fast working. They may not be quite as effective as St. John's Wort, so this natural therapy is better used for mild depression. If you are on any form of blood-thinning medication, ginkgo can cause problems.
Other natural remedies for depression include an amino acid called 5-HTP, which helps your body produce more serotonin, the happy hormone. Since most antidepressants help boost serotonin levels (low levels have been linked to depression), it makes sense that 5-HTP would work just as well. This treatment is effective, but made more so by combining it with St. John's Wort.
Depression has also been linked in some cases to a Vitamin B deficiency, so this is another natural treatment. When a deficiency is indeed the cause of the depression, then taking a supplement and increasing intake of foods that contain the missing nutrient should help clear up the problem. It is a good idea to check with your doctor on this one first since this may or may not be your particular problem.
Making sure you eat properly and get exercise can also help lift depression naturally. I find that making sure I eat within an hour of rising helps, a technique discussed at length by Dr. Katherine DesMaisons at her Radiant Recovery website. That site has a number of great suggestions for helping with depression.
And check to see if you might have Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. I do, and starting right around the fall equinox I start sitting for a half hour every morning in front of a light therapy lamp. It helps, a lot. I do it throughout the winter and stop right around the spring equinox.
Antidepressants are often considered to be a last resort and many people who suffer from depression would much rather take a natural supplement than admit to friends and family that they are suffering from a mental illness. But don't let shame or fear keep you from getting help. There's nothing more shameful about depression than having diabetes, and would you be embarrassed about taking insulin? No. Then don't be embarrassed about depression.
If you are currently on antidepressants the absolute WORST thing you can do is stop taking them abruptly. If you decide you want to try a different solution, talk with your practitioner. Going cold turkey on some antidepressants can have serious consequences. Discuss your options thoroughly with your practitioner. The two of you together can find the best treatment for you.