Depression can be a crippling condition that really needs a proper diagnosis from a medical practitioner or psychologist. Patients diagnosed with depression experience a persistent decline in their mood, which can be associated with low motivation, social isolation, poor sex drive, tiredness, excessive sleep and weight gain. It is important to note that these symptoms can be due to other factors such as nutritional deficiencies adrenal fatigue and thyroid dysfunction – so assessing these factors is essential in figuring out if the issue is truly depression or another physiological process masking itself as depression.
Why do people get depressed?
Often we experience a decline in mood or a desire to go into our cave and hibernate as a response to a major life stressor or trauma – and this is a very normal response to those situations. If you think about it, it makes sense that when life hits the fan (so to speak) we take time out of our normal activities to lick our wounds and to recover. If you are feeling down in response to a break-up, loss of job or loss of a loved one, it is probably a normal response and may actually be important for you to take this time out for yourself. If you are feeling excessively down and there is no good reason for it, then there is likely something going on with your neurochemistry and thinking patterns causing this, and it needs attention.
Neurochemistry is a fancy name for the chemical signals that your brain sends from one neuron to another. When we have an imbalance in our neurochemistry, we can not send healthy signals and can feel depressed as the message is not getting through – or even anxious as the message gets through but just too loud. Chemical messages require building blocks to be produced (just as a cake needs the right ingredients to rise) and the right stimulus to be released (and the cake needs to go into the oven at a certain temperature) so that the signal is sent from one neuron to the next. Naturopathy works to supply the building blocks in the form of vitamins, minerals and amino acids for the chemical messages, helps to reduce neuroinflammation (low level brain inflammation that is linked to depression) with the use of herbal medicine, nutritional medicine and gut healing, and encourages the brain to send healthy signals so that you can feel better. Sometimes fixing these issues can be quite fast and easy, and other times it takes a long time to figure out the imbalances and re-establish good function.
What if I was just born this way?
Often we are born with a predisposition towards a certain neurochemical pattern, which means that we may be predisposed towards anxiety or depression, but our genetics are not the end of the line when it comes to these conditions. We can support and modify our physiology to improve function and quality of life by providing the building blocks for healthy neurotransmitters, supporting the structure of neurons with omega 3 fatty acid, promote healthier neural pathways with herbs and calm down the damaging effects of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight system) with herbs and nutrients. Our physiology is not static – it is in constant flux in response to the internal and external environment – and that means that it can always change. A good book to read is Normal Doidge’s “The Brain That Changes Itself” to understand just how malleable the brain is. Think about your physiology as the type of car you have. You may have been born with a Ferrari or perhaps a Volvo – these cars are going to have different strengths, weaknesses and functions, but regardless of the type of car – they can be running very well or terribly depending on the level of service we provide them. If you never change the oil, use crappy fuel and flog your vehicle – it is not going to run very well – and likewise in the opposite direction – given the correct love and care, each vehicle has the ability to perform at it’s absolute best. The same can be said for your biology and brain function. Given the right conditions, it can perform at it’s absolute best or its worst – and that is where naturopathy can really help – getting your car on the road and running at full capacity.
Is it just herbs and nutrients?
Aside from the neurochemistry, the other aspect of good mental health is the thought patterns that we have become accustomed to. They say that there are pathways of the brain that become like superhighways, with thoughts speeding down them as this is the fastest track. For example, you may have a thought or belief that you are not good enough and any time that someone cuts you off in conversation or doesn’t listen intently, you may find your brain immediately going down this pathway of ‘that happened because I am not good enough’ – strengthening this neural pathway and consolidating that negative belief. Working with practitioners who specialize in providing you with the tools to recognise unhealthy beliefs and thought patterns and create new and healthier neural pathways is as important as making sure that you have healthy neurotransmitter function. Practitioners such as hypnotherapists, psychologists, and some specialised counselors can assist in these areas and are a great adjunct to naturopathic care for depression.
The bottom line is that there is always something that can help. When you feel depressed, you can feel very helpless and stuck, but it is important to have hope and to know that there are people out there to help you. Our bodies and our minds want to be well, sometimes we need to do a little digging and investigative work to figure out what is holding us back from ultimate good health, but there is always something that can make a difference.
If you are concerned about your immediate safety, please contact a crisis centre such as beyond blue 1300 22 4636 or lifeline 13 11 14 or go straight to your local GP.