Complementary Therapies for Managing Depression
Depression is one of the major problems facing our generation. Our fast paced lifestyle puts tremendous pressure and stress on each one of us. Unless we develop coping skills, this can make us sick. Depression is one of the results of uncontrolled stress. Depression can also co-exist with a variety of conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, gastrointestinal diseases, etc. Studies have shown that your chance of full recovery from these diseases is much less if you are suffering from depression at the same time. Very often, the doctors will treat you for the other condition; but the depression is ignored. ("Oh! he is sad because he has heart disease. That will pass." etc.) Depression should be properly diagnosed and treated just like any other disease. Depression is often misdiagnosed. Ironically, even if you are properly diagnosed as having clinical depression, it may not be treated properly (adequate dosage).
There has been tremendous progress made in the past years in understanding how the brain works. One of the outcomes of this research is that we now understand that depression may be due to the decreased activity of the serotenergic pathways in the brain. (This is called monoamine hypothesis.) Antidepressants work on these receptor sites. The problem is that they also work on other receptor sites leading to substantial side effects. As the technology advances, the scientists are learning to target the receptor sites precisely. Obtaining a drug to target a specific receptor is not yet a precise science because our mind is a very complicated mechanism as we, who believe in Mind-Body interventions, know.
There is some controversy as to whether the antidepressants really work or their work is because of the placebo effect or the mind-body effect. Research conducted using active placebos (placebos that mimic the side effects of the antidepressants like dry mouth, insomnia, etc.) showed that they work as effectively as the expensive antidepressants. Researchers investigating bibliotherapy (reading self-help books) found that it can be as effective as antidepressants and, at the same time, can work faster.
You have at your disposal a variety of complementary therapies to manage depression. For example, Ayurvedic practitioners say that depression can be managed without the side effects and the remission associated with antidepressants. Nutrition and diet play a very important role in mental health. We know that some amino acids can affect the neurotransmitters just like antidepressants do. So, dietary intervention can be very useful in managing depression. (More importantly, deficiency of key nutritional components can result in depression.) St. John's wort, an herb, is now accepted worldwide as a cure for mild depression. It has been found to be very effective in clinical trials. Herbalists have a number of other herbs they use to make a potion that minimizes any side effects. Prayer, meditation, acupressure, yoga, music therapy, exercise, etc. are few of the other therapies that are useful in managing depression. For example, scientists have found that people who are religious suffer less mental health problems than those who do not believe in God or a higher power.
What all these means is that we have an arsenal of therapies that can be used as Complementary therapies to make the antidepressants more effective. In case of mild depression, these therapies may be used as a stand-alone treatment. If you are suffering from severe depression, you should contact your psychiatrist and get immediate treatment. After your situation is under control, look at some of the alternative therapies offered in this site and see whether you could use them as a way to reinforce what you are taking. Because of potential interactions, discuss with your physician before you begin taking any herbs.
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Dr. Jacob Mathew
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