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Depression is one of the most common mental or emotional illnesses in our society, with an estimated 7% of adults affected by a form of depression at some point in their lives. It is estimated that depression is twice as likely to affect women than men, and it affects people from all ages and backgrounds. It is expected that, by the year 2020, depression will be the 2nd most common health problem in the World. There is no single cause of depression - it is triggered by a wide range of causes, from traumatic events to head injuries, and genetic predisposition to hormonal imbalances.

 

Symptoms

 

Just as there is no single cause of depression, neither is there a single set of symptoms which must be present. Everyone experiences depression differently. However, here are a list of common symptoms:

 

   * Feeling restless and agitated

   * Waking up early, having difficulty sleeping, or sleeping more

   * Constant tiredness and lack of energy

   * Using tobacco, alcohol or drugs more frequently or in greater quantities

   * Weight gain or loss, not eating properly

   * Crying a lot, sometimes without a known specific cause

   * Feelings of guilt, blaming yourself for things you weren’t responsible for

   * Reduced self-confidence and self-esteem

   * Feeling numb or empty

   * Loss of short term memory, difficulty remembering things

   * Physical aches and pains with no underlying physical cause

   * Being unusually irritable or impatient

   * Getting no pleasure out of life or activities you normally enjoy

   * Loss of libido / interest in sex life

   * Feelings of despair and helplessness

   * Experiencing or feeling a sense of unreality, as if your current life isn’t ‘real’ in some way

   * Feeling pessimistic or frightened of the future

   * Finding it hard to concentrate or make decisions

   * Distancing yourself from others; refusing to ask for support

   * Self-harming (by cutting yourself, for example)

   * Having suicidal thoughts

 

While we all go through some of these things at various points in our lives as a natural part of how life can be, or because of other things happening in our lives such as work stress, family problems or bereavement, if you are experiencing more than five or so of these symptoms at any one time, then it will almost certainly be beneficial to discuss this with your GP or healthcare provider. They will be able to help you get suitable treatment to help you recover. For more information, the ‘About’ website has some useful articles.


Myths and Misconceptions

 

Despite how common it is, depression is often misunderstood. There are all manner of myths and misconceptions. One of the most common, and also most damaging, is the idea that depression is a ‘sign of weakness’, and that the sufferer should ‘pull their socks up’, ‘snap out of it’ or ‘pull themselves together’. Depression is a disease, in the same way that diabetes or glandular fever is a disease. Much as a positive mental attitude and having a ‘fighting spirit’ is often cited as a major factor in recovery from illness, having depression is not the fault of the sufferer, is not due to what our grandmothers would call ‘lack of moral fibre’, and cannot be cured by ‘pulling oneself together’. Like all illnesses, it requires proper medical treatment.

 

Another myth is that depression is permanent; that, once  a person has depression, they are stuck with it for life. This is also not true. Depression can be successfully treated, which is why it is so important to seek professional help. Another myth is that, as depression is a mental health issue, people who have depression are mad or in some way ‘not normal’. Again, this is simply not true. However, one of the most dangerous misconceptions, because it can prevent people seeking treatment, is about anti-depressant medication. The first of these is that all a doctor will do is ‘put you on drugs’. This is not necessarily the case. Medication is one of a range of treatment options, and the most important thing to do is to discuss it with your GP to find the best option for you. The second is that antidepressant medication will ‘turn you into a zombie’, or ‘zonk you out’. While it’s true that some of the medication used in the past may have affected some people in this way, there are now a wide range of modern pharmaceutical preparations which can be tailored to suit an individual’s circumstances. The best description of antidepressant medication I have heard is that it can “help to put someone in a place where they can work out the issues”. There is no such thing as a ‘magic pill’, but recovery starts with talking to your healthcare provider, who will work with you to develop the right treatment plan for you.

 

Complementary Treatment Options

 

There are a range of complementary therapies which may be beneficial in dealing with depression. Here are just a few you may wish to consider:

 

Herbal Medicine

 

There are several herbal treatments which you may find useful. The most well-known is probably St John’s Wort. Many clinical trials support the use of St. John's Wort, some demonstrating it to be as effective as antidepressants for mild to moderate depression, and with fewer side effects. However, there is no such thing as a ‘magic bullet’. Firstly, St. John's wort is not considered to be effective for major depression. Also, just because it’s a herb doesn’t mean that it is without safety issues. If that were the case, opium would be freely available next to the chocolate in supermarkets! St. John's Wort can take 4 to 6 weeks to realise the full benefits. Side effects can include tiredness, dry mouth, indigestion and dizziness. It also increases photosensitivity, which means that it can cause you to burn more easily in the sun, and your eyes may be more sensitive to sunlight, too. There is evidence to suggest that St John’s Wort may reduce the efficacy of oral contraceptives. St John’s Wort can interfere with other medication, and should not be taken alongside pharmaceutical antidepressants under any circumstances - it’s an ‘either/or’ option. Organ transplant patients taking drugs to prevent organ rejection, and HIV+ and AIDS patients taking drug therapy should consult their GP or specialist prior to taking St John’s Wort. It is not suitable for pregnant women, children, or people with liver or kidney disease or bipolar disorder. There is a really useful article on St John’s wort here.

 

Diet

 

Eating a balanced diet and avoiding alcohol and caffeine (which both affect moods negatively) and keeping processed sugary foods to a minimum, which can cause sugar highs and crashes, is important. In addition, there are dietary substances which have been shown to be potentially helpful in treating depression. The first are Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. They are types of fat which are vital to our health. Our bodies cannot synthesise these fats, so we must get them through our diet. The richest sources are oily fish, such as salmon, sardines, tuna and mackerel, as well as flax seeds and hemp seeds. Hemp oil is available from supermarkets and can be used in cooking and salad dressings, whereas flax seeds are easiest to eat sprinkled on salads or cereal. Flaxseed oil is also available and can be used to make salad dressings. Omega 3 and 6 oils are also available in supplement capsules.

 

Another potentially helpful substance is folic acid (also called folate, part of the vitamin B complex). The best sources are green leafy vegetables, (spinach, spring greens, broccoli etc), asparagus, bananas, yeast (and yeast spreads like Marmite), cereals, mushrooms, orange  and tomato juices, and offal. It is also available as a supplement and in fortified foods like breakfast cereal.

 

Bath-time Can Help Banish Blues!

 

A common contributory factor for depression is magnesium deficiency, particularly with a western diet. Magnesium is an important mineral, but it is more readily absorbed transdermally (through the skin) than through the diet or via supplements. The easiest way to do this is by adding it to your bath water. Epsom Salts (or Magnesium Sufate Heptahydrate, to give it its proper chemical name) is available from most chemists and health food in large bags. They can also help soothe aching muscles and soften skin, so there are extra benefits, too!

 

Aromatherapy

 

Aromatherapy can be very helpful in managing the symptoms of depression. Aromatherapy can be used to help ease anxiety, reduce stress and tension, calm feelings of restlessness and irritability, lift dark moods and also help relieve insomnia. Aromatherapy can be used in a variety of ways from massage and bathing to room fragrance and inhalation. Visiting a qualified aromatherapist is recommended, but it is also possible to gain the benefits of aromatherapy at home. Benzoin, bergamot, chamomile, frankincense, geranium, jasmine, lavender, palmarosa, patchouli, peppermint, petitgrain, pine, rose, sandalwood, ylang ylang and many oils from the citrus family are all useful in treating depression. These can be tailored depending on the type of depression involved and the mood of the sufferer at the time. Our aromatherapy range and massage range have products designed to help manage the symptoms of depression from the comfort of your home.
 

Exercise

 

Exercise has been shown to have a demonstrable benefit on a person’s mood. Exercise stimulates neurotransmitters in our brains to produce seratonin, which is an endorphin which make us feel good. There is no right or wrong way to exercise, but aerobic exercise of some form is the most effective at releasing seratonin. For more information on exercise and depression, the NHS ‘Livewell’ website has a good article.

It’s Good To Talk!

 

Finally, one of the most underrated ways to help yourself is to keep channels of communication open with those you’re close to - friends, family members and your partner if applicable. Talk to them about how you feel - the simple act of sharing your feelings and helping them understand your condition can be therapeutic in itself, and building a support network is crucial. Support groups and Internet forums are also a way to do this.

 

 


 

 

 

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