This is a guest post by Matthew Snider of Self Development Secrets.
Antidepressants are some of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States, second only to antibiotics. This is a startling statistic for a class of drugs with many side effects that works little better than placebo. Before you take antidepressants, you might consider alternatives to medication.
Depression and Antidepressants
No one really knows what causes depression. Trauma, hormones, accidents, genetics, disease and life changes all correlate with the condition, but there isn’t one thing that researchers can point to definitively. They know the brain is involved but haven’t been able to single out any particular chemical or region.
Nor do we know how antidepressants truly work. One commonly prescribed class of antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), increase the presence of serotonin in the brain, but no one knows how that may help alleviate depression. Some people respond to them, and they have no results in others. Is it the placebo effect? Is it neurogenesis, the birth of new brain cells – which is one possible theory about how they might work? No one knows, which is interesting considering how widely prescribed they are.
The list of side effects from antidepressants is long, including some symptoms that might even increase the condition, if experienced regularly: nausea, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, fatigue, insomnia, constipation, agitation and suicidal ideation – and that’s just a partial list. Reporting these side effects to your practitioner often results in prescribing another drug with its own list of side effects.
The multi-antidepressant drug “cocktail” has another complication. Some antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications that block the neurotransmitter acetylcholine carry a cognitive burden, increasing the risk of cognitive impairment later in life. When taken together, these drugs exponentially increase the risk.
Alternatives For Treating Depression
If drugs aren’t always the best front-line options for depression, what can help? There are many other practices which have proven successful in treating depression.
A good therapist can provide a safe space for you to express and emote without fear of consequences. Therapy can guide you to a better understanding of who you are and give you tools to change your patterns of thought and behaviour.
Therapy doesn’t “cure” you, per se, but it does is give you the skills to manage life’s ups and downs. Exploring emotions, examining avoidance actions, identifying recurring patterns and discussing past experiences help therapists shape a way forward for the patient that medication can’t.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) makes lasting physical changes to your brain. Studies show CBT more effective than medication. The effect size (a way of measuring the effectiveness of hard to quantify subjects) of therapy is 0.97, while antidepressants are far behind at .31.
To find a good therapist, ask friends and family for recommendations, or try an online service. You might want to call first to see if they feel confident about helping your specific issues and remember you can always switch to a new therapist if you feel you’re not improving.
In one study, not only did exercise do as well as an antidepressant but all participants that kept exercising, regardless of the treatment, experienced reduced levels of depression after the study ended. Experts think that the endorphins enhanced by exercising help to improve mood. Just a brisk walk for 35 minutes a day, five days a week is enough to experience brain benefits.
Admittedly, summoning the motivation to exercise when depressed is challenging. At first, just try to find an activity you enjoy and do it for as long as you can. Small incremental increases in time will be easier to manage than starting with one long session.
See if you can find something to motivate you, for instance: save a favourite show to watch while on the treadmill or meet a friend for a walk or workout session. Exercising regularly and social interaction can help your baseline mindset become more positive.
Scientists found there is a common link among depressed people; they make poor food choices that lack adequate nutrition. There are many factors at play here, but depressed people tend to form their own dietary feedback loop, in that they choose nutritionally deficient foods that contribute to their depression.
A Finnish study found that folate is a key nutrient in alleviating depression. Folate-rich foods include whole grains, berries, vegetables, and liver. The same study showed that processed meats, sugar, and white flour increased the risk of depression.
As with any dietary change, it’s important to embrace what’s right for you and not be overwhelmed. No one is demanding that you eat liver to help your depression. Try making small changes, like cutting back on sugary foods, increasing vegetable intake, or add a folic acid or omega-3 supplement to your diet.
Mindfulness, a type of thinking in which you bring your focus into the present moment, has proven to be as effective as antidepressants in treating depression. In chronically depressed people, mindfulness helps reduce worry about recurring negative feelings and thoughts, encouraging understanding and acceptance.
You can find plenty of mindfulness instruction online and locally, and there’s a multitude of books, apps, and CDs on the subject with meditations and exercises to best fit your specific needs. You can also find therapists that specialise in mindfulness therapy for depression and work with one to create a program right for you.
Matthew Snider is a writer, a personal development junkie, and a blogger at Self Development Secrets. Matt, with his one-quarter Asian descent, didn’t start out as a writer, but says, “the love for a subject is the most important aspect of writing. The readers want to read something written by someone who understands them.”
Please check out Matt’s website: Self Development Secrets.