Many folks treat their depression with psychotherapy or prescription antidepressant drugs. And though many experts think a combination of these two are effective, no scientific evidence supports this supposition. In reality, simple, natural measures like more sleep, exercise and efforts at sustaining a positive attitude work better to combat depression than medication.
Depression affects more than 20 million Americans and represents a serious mental health problem. It is believed to involve a genetic predisposition and the chemical composition of the brain, where symptoms like loss of energy, fatigue, prolonged feelings of deep sadness, loss of interest in things, and even thoughts of suicide stay front and center for an extended period of time.
According to the insights of Joseph Mercola, M.D., “The fact is, psychiatry still doesn’t understand what causes psychological distress, and the primary theory proposed; the idea that unwanted behavior and depression are due to an imbalance of serotonin and dopamine in your brain has never been proven.
“On the contrary, research has proven the theory is wrong, yet this evidence has been swept under the proverbial rug.
Despite what the slick advertisements say, psychotropic drugs have no measurable biological imbalances to correct — unlike other drugs that can measurably alter levels of blood sugar, cholesterol and so on.”
This is a disturbing fact to swallow. But the implications of this situation are worrisome. Several scientific, peer-reviewed studies have shown that anti-psychotic drugs increase your risk of cardiac disease at low doses and anti-depressants show the same risk at higher doses. Research in The New England Journal of Medicine, for example, found that “antipsychotic drugs doubled the risk of sudden cardiac death.” (Mercola’s full article and a disturbing video on the subject are here.
I’ve read several studies and even more books by experts claiming that low levels of serotonin, a monoamine neurotransmitter in the brain, leads to depression. This theory holds that due to lack of sleep and poor diet one’s serotonin level drops, and does not increase, thus leaving one with symptoms of depression, body ache and even migraine headaches. Pain symptoms aside, a report by the National Institute of Mental Health found the serotonin theory to be false after testing the serotonin levels in depressed patients. These researchers conclude:
“There is no evidence that there is anything wrong in the serotonergic system of depressed patients.”
Even though that report came out way back in 1983, hundreds of chemical and natural anti-depressant meds and supplements have hit the market since then. What a shame. While we yet may not be able to pinpoint the root cause of depression, there are promising natural and cost-free solutions for symptomatic relief.
A paper co-written by Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at University of California, Riverside, points to a “positive activity intervention” as an effective means to dealing with depression. “Depressed individuals need to increase positive emotions in their life, even a minute here and there,” she said. Her findings demonstrate proof that carrying out “random acts of kindness” is indeed a strong therapy against depression.
Lyubomirsky and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis on the therapeutic benefits of positive emotion on those who suffer from depression. They found clear scientific evidence that helping others or finding positive things in your own life decreases depression symptoms while increasing good feelings about yourself.
This research identifies four “positive activity interventions” that help reduce and prevent episodes of depressions: 1) being kind to others, 2) expressing gratitude, 3) thinking optimistically and 4) meditating on the good things in life. In other words, being and thinking like a “good person” keeps one from falling into a depressive mode, and helps one out of them as well.
“The most significant feature of depression,” says Lyubomirsky, “is the absence of positive emotion — just a feeling of nothing, of emptiness.” This is interesting to me, because it hints that as we move away from our inherent positive human nature (being kind and happy), we move in the direction of depression (which is less like life and more like death).
It seems this study confirms the concept of the so-called Law of Attraction, “That which is like unto itself is attracted,” or “like attracts like.” As Lyubomirsky notes, “Not only can being positive improve your mood, it can develop into a self-sustaining upward spiral.” One positive event, action or thought attracts another and then another, until the person who was depressed has raised his energy levels to resonate in positivity and happiness. There is no depression in such a state.
Years ago Wayne Dyer, Ph.D., wrote a book called The Power of Intention. In the book he discusses studies on how merely observing a good or kind action raises the mood of onlookers. Dyer connects these mood-raising episodes to an increase in serotonin. While we know that serotonin is probably not responsible for these mood improvements, still, mood changes occur because of positive events.
The best news is that you don’t need a doctor or a prescription to lift depression. You can do positive things, focus on those things and people for which you are most grateful, find things you love to do and share your good experiences with others.
Exercising can help with this; it boosts the feel-good chemicals in the body and gets the blood moving to help the body feel better. Eating well nourishes body and brain, too. Meditating or engaging in yoga or tai chi can also help reduce stress and relax body and mind.
When you can move the body, eat well, reduce stress and get adequate deep sleep, it is easier to feel good in your body. Feeling good in the body is a fundamental part of feeling good about life and your place in the world. From that vantage point you can think better thoughts, express gratitude and seek to carry out random acts of kindness. A more self-directed, healthy and proven remedy for the symptoms of depression has not been found. Yes, sometimes the simplest solutions are the strongest solutions. Have fun!