It's World Health Day, and this year the World Health Organization (WHO) has been running a yearlong campaign called "Depression: Let's talk." Last week they released a new report showing that depression rates have increased by 18 percent since 2005—which is huge, and the opposite of what we would like to see. The report brings a few important things to our attention. First, depression is a widespread problem, affecting both low-income and high-income countries around the world. Second, we don't do a good job treating it, as about half of all people with depression will never get the help they need. And lastly, we need to talk about depression in order to reduce stigma and ultimately improve care.
So in honor of this day, we got some of our favorite holistic health experts talking about depression. We wanted to know about the importance of acknowledgment, what their best piece of advice is for patients suffering from this illness, and how the United States compares to other countries when it comes to confronting depression.
1. Acknowledgment is a huge step in the right direction.
Dr. Ilene Ruhhoy, an integrative neurologist, wants patients to know that acknowledging depression is a huge step in the right direction because it validates their feelings, emotions, fears, and anxieties. She explains that "Clinical depression is a biochemical disorder, but patients are often made to feel like they should just "buck up" when they cannot. Much of what they feel and experience is not in their control. But when we acknowledge their depression, it can help given them the confidence and the motivation to seek help and care."
Her best advice for anyone struggling with this disease? Immerse yourself in nature and sunlight. There are numerous studies on the incredibly positive effects of being among flora and fauna and the sun, which also provides organic conversion to active D, which helps our brain produce happy neurotransmitters. She also wants patients to know that they have options and that there are many ways to address depression from both conventional and alternative health fields.
2. Brave celebs are paving the way by sharing their struggles with mental health.
In the latter half of the last decade, many celebrities have shared their struggles with mental health problems thanks to social media. Positive psychologist and author Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo agrees that acknowledging depression with ourselves is the first step, which helps normalize the disease.
The second step is to share the journey, as it can help give others hope. "There is increasing awareness and de-stigmatization when it comes to mental health in the United States. One great source of this entails celebrities: Selena Gomez, Michael Phelps, Jim Carey…," said Dr. Lombardo. Others include Kristen Bell, Gigi Hadid, and Lady Gaga.
3. The depression statistics we see are not normal.
Dr. Mark Hyman, a functional medicine doctor and mbg health expert, says there's a lot going wrong with the way health care systems approach depression: "With its symptom-based medicine approach, conventional medicine tackles depression completely wrong. Rather than determine what actually creates that depression, many doctors immediately reach for their prescription pad. That explains why one in 10 Americans today uses antidepressants while more than 8 million children are taking stimulants like Ritalin. These statistics are not normal."
Having struggled with depression himself, Dr. Hyman recommends a functional medicine approach that tackles inflammation, balances hormones, and optimizes nutrition. His best pieces of advice for patients with depression? Eat whole, real food (including fats), cut out sugar, and exercise regularly.
4. We can't ignore the links between depression and inflammation.
Dr. William Cole, functional medicine expert and mbg class instructor, says that his primary concern is getting to the root cause of the disease: Research now confirms that many cases of depression are due to inflammation. Assessing factors of inflammations such as genetic methylation impairments and microbiome problems give people with depression true answers.
When it comes to the way our world is coping with depression, he thinks we have it all wrong: "Not just in America, but in Western medicine as a whole. Antidepressants are the most prescribed drug for people ages 18 to 44. The pharmaceutical industry spends around $2.4 billion a year on their direct-to-consumer television advertising for these drugs. Is this health care? There is very little healthy about it. We need to do something dramatically different to see different results than this."
He does, however, think that Americans overall are more open to talking about depression. "Talking about mental health or emotions is not done as openly in many cultures. We all have a long way to go, though. We need to not only have an open conversation, without stigma, about depression, but we also need to have a conversation about people's options in mainstream medicine and their effectiveness."
5. As a country, we (Americans) favor quick fixes over lifestyle changes.
Dr. David Perlmutter, a leading neurologist specializing in gut and brain health and one of mbg's health experts, warns, "We live in an incredibly drug-centric society as it relates to our approach to any illness, mental health issues included. Other countries that focus on overall health and recognize the importance of lifestyle choices in general will clearly be more effective when it comes to reducing mental health issues because attention to diet, sleep, exercise, and stress all target inflammation, the fundamental mechanism underlying not just depression, but virtually all of our seemingly pernicious health issues."
In order to treat depression, Dr. Perlmutter recommends aerobic exercise first and foremost. "To be fair, other factors play roles, but the influence of diet, the diversity of the microbiome, the gut effects of gluten, and the role of exercise, to name a few, are all important in regulating inflammation, and as such, important players in mood disorders," he added.
6. If you're depressed, your body might be calling out for help.
Depression may be a manifestation of disease elsewhere in the body. Dr. Alice Domar, mbg health expert and women's health specialist, recommends seeing your primary care physician before making any depression-related decisions or changes. "There are some medical conditions that can cause depressive symptoms, such as an underactive thyroid, and these need to be ruled out before a diagnosis of depression is considered." Mood is one of the many ways our bodies can speak to us.
She also wants anyone who might be feeling depressed to adjust their expectations. "Americans tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be happy and tend to confuse life dissatisfaction with depression. I see a lot of patients who come in with a self-diagnosis of depression, when in fact they are simply have a normal reaction to a life challenge, such as the illness or death of a parent, a job loss, or marital issues. It is healthy to feel sad when things like that happen in your life, but most people don't go on to develop a true clinical depression."
7. You are not alone.
According to Dr. Aviva Romm, talking about depression is more important than ever. "Part of depression can be a feeling of deep isolation. When we bring what's in the darkness to light by sharing our stories of depression, sadness, and human struggle, we remove the stigma, the loneliness, and the sense that it's something wrong with you."
When it comes to healing, togetherness is key, and Dr. Romm agrees, "Connection and acknowledgment opens the door to healing."
Lindsay Kellner co-wrote this article in partnership with Gretchen Lidicker.