7 Things I Wish More People Knew About Depression
We have been told that depression is always caused by a chemical imbalance and cured by a chemical fix—a prescription. More than 30 million Americans take antidepressants, including one in seven women, and one in four women of reproductive age. Millions more are tempted to try them to end chronic, unyielding distress, irritability, and emotional “offness”—trapped by an exhausting inner agitation they can’t shake.
Leaders in the field are beginning to accept that this is not the whole story. Science is leading us to explore the way the human body interacts with our intellect. Your body reacts to certain things positively and certain things negatively. These are "symptoms" of great causes.
I believe depression is a meaningful symptom of a biological mismatch with our lifestyles—we eat poorly, harbor too much stress, lack sufficient physical movement, deprive ourselves of natural sunlight, expose ourselves to environmental toxins, and take too many drugs. I believe that inflammation is the language the body speaks, expressing imbalance, inviting change. We usually suppress these symptoms with medication. That, to me, is like turning off the smoke alarm when your house is on fire.
Let’s get the facts straight:
1. Depression is not necessarily the result of a chemical imbalance.
Inflammation is a manifestation of irregularities in the body. The medical literature has emphasized the role of inflammation in mental illness for more than 20 years. It takes an average of 17 years for the data that exposes inefficacy and/or a signal of harm, to trickle down into your doctor’s daily routine. This time lag problem makes medicine’s standard of care “evidence-based” in theory but not necessarily in practice.
There is no scientifically established ideal “chemical balance” of serotonin, let alone an identifiable pathological imbalance. To equate the impressive recent achievements of neuroscience with support for the serotonin hypothesis is a mistake.
With direct proof of serotonin deficiency in any mental disorder lacking, the claimed efficacy of SSRIs is often cited as indirect support for the serotonin hypothesis ... The fact that aspirin cures headaches does not prove that headaches are due to low levels of aspirin in the brain.
So, if you think a drug can "fix" you, you will be disappointed. It's the equivalent of putting a bandage on a bullet wound.
2. Antidepressants have the potential to irreversibly damage your brain's natural ability to regulate itself.
Antidepressants have been shown in scientific studies to increase our risk of liver damage, bleeding, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, and reduced cognitive function. The dirtiest little secret of all is the fact that antidepressants are among the most difficult drugs to taper from.
While you might call it “going through withdrawal,” we medical professionals have been instructed to call it “discontinuation syndrome,” which can be characterized by fiercely debilitating physical and psychological reactions. Moreover, antidepressants have a well-established history of causing violent side effects, including suicide and homicide. In fact, 5 of the top 10 most violence-inducing drugs have been found to be antidepressants.
3. The effect is not a cure.
Even if we accepted the proposition that these drugs are helpful for some people, extrapolating a medical cause from this observation would be akin to saying that shyness is caused by a deficiency of alcohol or that headaches are caused by a lack of codeine.
4. Most prescriptions for antidepressants are doled out by family doctors—not psychiatrists.
Eleven percent of all visits to a primary care doctor are for psychiatric purposes. Many people who take antidepressants don't meet the medical criteria for a bona fide diagnosis of major depression.
5. Your body's symptoms might not be telling you you're depressed.
Many different physical conditions create psychiatric symptoms but aren’t themselves “psychiatric.” Two prime examples: dysfunctioning thyroid and blood sugar chaos. We sometimes hear that to heal these symptoms, we need to “cure” the brain, but in reality we need to look at the whole body’s ecosystem: intestinal health, hormonal interactions, the immune system and autoimmune disorders, blood sugar balance, and toxicant exposure.
6. Changing your lifestyle can enhance your body's powerful self-healing mechanisms used to fight depression.
Dietary modifications (more healthy fats and less sugar, dairy, and gluten) and natural supplements like B vitamins and probiotics are a start. Minimizing exposures to biology-disrupting toxicants like fluoride in tap water, chemicals in common drugs like ibuprofen and statins, and fragrances in cosmetics will also encourage your body's healing process. Harnessing the power of sufficient sleep and physical movement and behavioral techniques aimed at promoting the relaxation response is the third crucial element of self-healing.
7. Depression is an opportunity.
It is a sign for us to stop and figure out what’s causing our imbalance rather than just masking, suppressing, or rerouting the symptoms. It’s a chance to choose a new story, to engage in radical transformation, to say yes to a different life experience.
Join the revolution. Find out more in A Mind of Your Own: How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives.
Ready to learn more about what anxiety, brain health, and your diet all have in common? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Dr. Mark Hyman.