Depression – Part 1

These next two columns I am devoting to the subject of depression. I have chosen to give the topic so much space because of the very high number of anti-depressants that are being prescribed. Anti-depressants are the fasted selling drugs on the market – and that worries me.

Too many people are becoming dependent on these drugs when lifestyle changes and other more natural solutions can make a difference. If you are treating depression only with a prescription, you are not taking the time to inquire about your life situation or to find the cause of your depression.

Depression is much more serious than a simple case of "the blues”. True depression goes far deeper. It disrupts a person’s ability to function and erodes their sense of hope and well-being.

Major depression is diagnosed when at least five of these symptoms are present every day for at least one month:

* Diminished interest in all activities

* Weight loss or gain

* Insomnia or oversleeping

* Inactivity or hyperactivity

* Fatigue

* Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt

* Inability to concentrate

* Suicidal thoughts

You can’t always tell that a person is depressed just by looking at them. There are a lot of high functioning depressed people who manage to conceal their illness for a long time. They live a double life with an outward display of confidence while internally they are anxious and full of despair.

Theories about depression include imbalanced brain biochemistry, neurotransmitters, hormones, social factors, environmental factors and emotional factors.

In my practice, I see stress as the single most major cause of depression. You would think that with all our time-saving devices and with everything we know about stress, we would be getting a handle on it.

Not so. In the past 10 years I have seen stress take a quantum leap. Job stress is huge. Massive downsizing leaves people overworked or in fear of losing their jobs. At the same time, they experience higher job expectations and a higher demand for efficiency. Many people in Nanaimo, for example, are self-employed and tend to work far beyond a 40-hour week. They have impossibly high expectations of themselves. It’s all too much.

Looking at the biochemical side of depression we find that seratonin and dopamine, the neurotransmitters that carry nerve impulses throughout the brain, are present in lower quantities and act in different ways in depressed persons.

For women estrogen in balance can play a big role in depression. Some women experience depression at times of significant hormonal shifts like puberty, menopause, childbirth and before menstruation.

The environment can also play a role in depression. SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) involves episodic depression during the Fall and Winter months.

A Naturopathic approach to treating depression would first determine whether the depression is a side effect of another health condition such as hypothyroidism, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, hypoglycemia or allergies. If these are ruled out we would consider your general lifestyle and give advice about diet, exercise, addictive substances and relaxation techniques. Other therapies might include vitamins, amino acids, herbs, homeopathic remedies and/or counseling.

In my next column I will go into detail about treatment for depression. Depression is treatable – far more treatable then most people believe when they are under its influence.

Dr. Paulette Roscoe is a naturopathic physician who practices in Nanaimo. She welcomes your calls at 754-1733.