Depression is such an insidious disease, you just never know when someone you care about is suffering from a sadness they just can’t shake. Sadly, sometimes people feel so ashamed of their depressed thoughts they kill themselves rather than share them with loved ones who would gladly help.
You may not even fully recognize depression yourself, but denial of the emotional puzzle pieces will delay your healing. It’s not that hard to piece together depression as it frequently occurs with chronic fatigue, apathy, forgetfulness, heightened irritability, sudden appetite changes, more frequent headaches or diarrhea. Also, you may not want to put on makeup or go out with friends and people will keep asking you, “Are you okay?”
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s ideal to see a good doctor or skilled mental health professional to get a proper diagnosis. You certainly don’t want to ride this out alone if you’re having dark thoughts.
I’m suggesting you get to the bottom of it and find out for sure if you’re dealing with depression or not, so you can treat it accurately. But there is one major caveat to working with your health care provider that you need to be aware of: Almost without fail, you’ll be given a prescription anti-depressant or other psychotropic drug and be sent on your way. Millions of you reading me today, especially women, know what I’m talking about! This is the part that makes me furious because even though I know this category of drugs can help some of you, for a period of time… they are not always helpful in the long run, and they can cause major changes to your brain cells and the receptor sites. It’s called receptor down-regulation and it can impact your brain and mood forever. What I’m about to tell you about prescription medications is not what most pharmacists will tell you:
- Prescription anti-depressants don’t work very well.
- They don’t work long because your own body’s production of endorphins decreases.
- Your receptor sites become tolerant and change their conformation “down-regulation.”
- They come with side effects that are at best annoying and at worst sometimes dangerous.
- You can’t get off them easily, stopping suddenly can trigger a seizure. Weaning takes months and sometimes years.
Being a “rebel pharmacist,” I’ll tell you drugs are not high on my list to treat depression.
Mood Responds to Thyroid Hormone
There are really tight studies that prove that thyroid hormone is a better antidepressant than several popular SSRI drugs! There’s not much else to say here, it’s a fact. You can look up the STAR* D trial. There’s more on how thyroid hormone and medications impact mood in my book, Thyroid Healthy. What I’m saying is that if you’re taking a prescription antidepressant for depression, even with suicidal ideation, studies have shown that optimizing your thyroid works better than that! How many of you have been told THAT by your physicians?! More likely, you were given an SSRI, or an SNRI or tri-cyclic or a benzo, right? It’s rare that depression is treated with thyroid medicine.
If you’d like to learn more from me and other experts in the field of thyroid health, grab one of my thyroid summit flash drives by CLICKING HERE.
Mood Responds to Light
Here’s a fast-acting fix for mild depression. Although it won’t work in everyone (as the causes of depression vary) it will help some of you, and there are no side effects! The technique is simple: expose yourself to natural light!
It’s a fact actually. We have long known about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a severe form of winter depression that is triggered in the wintertime when we are exposed to reduced natural light. Perhaps you’ve seen those “blue” lights that are sold on Amazon that wake you up by mimicking morning sunlight. These are touted to help with SAD.
Researchers have long known that sunlight has a huge impact on mood. I found an Italian study (published in 2001) that looked at hospitalized patients with bipolar disease whose rooms faced east giving them natural sunlight. They spent an average of 3.5 fewer days admitted to the hospital, compared to those whose rooms faced west. This isn’t conclusive, but it does suggest that exposure to natural light has an antidepressant effect.
So you could apply this to your own life by making sure that you get outside in the mornings, or at least throw open your curtains and sip your morning coffee or tea in the sunniest spot in your house. This light exposure works at least in part by influencing your internal clock, which is known as your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm rules your sleep cycles, as well as changes in body temperature and cortisol levels. Melatonin seeps out of your pineal gland in response to dark, and retreats when the sun rises (allowing you to wake up naturally with the light). Disruptions in these cycles throughout the day are associated with depression.
Mood Responds to Sleep, or Lack Thereof!
We’ve also known for a long time that sleep improves your daily mood. It’s common knowledge that if you don’t sleep one day, the next day will probably be more challenging to get through. So here’s the kicker… there’s some fascinating new research that suggests the opposite. If you have severe depression, there’s a new way to re-boot your internal clock. It’s called Wake Therapy. It has very fast-acting effects, which is particularly exciting because prescription antidepressants take 4-6 weeks to take effect.
Essentially, wake therapy involves getting up four hours earlier than normal, which causes you to fall asleep earlier the next night. This is like pressing the RESET button on your circadian rhythm. I actually do this all the time meaning I stay up until 4 or 5 am sometimes and I do notice that I fall asleep sooner the next day.
In addition to Wake Therapy, there’s an even more advanced type called Triple Chronotherapy, which adds one night of total sleep deprivation, followed by early morning light exposure and then hitting the sack 5 or 6 hours earlier than normal.
This might sound appealing to you, particularly if your feelings of depression includes suicidal thoughts or severe apathy. Remember, medications don’t always work, and this Triple Chronotherapy is free and easy to try, so it gets my gold stamp of approval.
A 2009 study evaluated how well chronotherapy worked on a group of 49 bipolar patients, who were randomized into two groups, one that received chronotherapy in addition to their antipsychotic or psychotropic medications, and another group that received only medication. The chronotherapy group experienced a significant reduction in their symptoms in only 48 hours! Even more remarkable, they noted positive results that lingered for up to 7 solid weeks. Remember, it’s free and easy to try.
We all know that regular exercise can boost mood. But pulling an all-nighter is so powerful that it might even be more effective than sweating. Another 2015 study randomized 75 depressed patients into two groups—some took the antidepressant duloxetine with chronotherapy, and the others took duloxetine with exercise. After 29 weeks, nearly 62 percent of the chronotherapy group experienced a remission of their depression that lasted for the entire duration of the study, while only nearly 38 percent of the exercise group did! (That being said, exercise is fabulous for other aspects of your physical health, too, so please don’t interpret this article as me telling you to stay on the couch!)
You should discuss this with your practitioners-in-the-know, as well as your family. If you feel like you have depression or SAD, please remember there is hope and that chronotherapy or wake therapy could have a positive impact on you. I’ll also put together another article soon about antioxidants, and their impact on mood.
Finally, it would be ideal if you could keep a bedside journal (or an electronic tracker, like Fitbit) and track your symptoms as well as when and how you slept, what you ate and drank that day, and what activities you did. (Were you inside all day? Did you get some real sunlight?) These are important to track, as well as what supplements and medicine you took on your good days and bad days. This type of information can help if you have any chronic illness, but especially if you have severe depression. For more of my thoughts on depression treatments, Click here.