Depression: Coping Naturally
–by Dr. Richard "Medicine Bear" Cantrell

Any type of psychological problems require treatment from a licensed professional. This is especially important in psychotherapy. While a person may find relief by taking psychotrophic drugs, herbs, or homeopathics, this does not eliminate the cause of the condition. An expert must determine the cause and orient treatment towards eradication of that cause.

Always keep your physician and or therapist advised of any types of natural treatments you are considering. Drug interactions can -- and often do -- occur between conventional drugs and herbal remedies. Many times herbal or homeopathic remedies are rendered useless by conventional medications, and vice versa.

Depression is the most common of the psychological disorders, affecting nearly everyone at some time or another -- it is a normal emotion and no one escapes an occasional confrontation with it. It is when depression disables a person to the point he is not able to conduct his life in the fashion desired that it becomes a problem which needs treatment. Once treatment is required it becomes, in my opinion, chronic or clinical depression.

Some people have a very difficult time coping with anger, guilt or sadness. Most of us can ride out the storm of these emotions and find ways to cope, but others can't. They lose interest in life and become incapable of finding pleasure in anything. Time passes slowly for them; they are angry, irritable and bored, but unable to motivate themselves to remedy the situation. Some try to sleep off their depression or lie around, waiting for it to go away.

Depression can be caused by anger and aggression turned inward, guilt, a great loss, behavior learned as a child, use of alcohol or drugs, tension and stress, upset stomach, nutritional deficiencies, poor diet, sugar, yeast in the body, endometriosis in women, thyroid disorders and many other things. Some people suffer from seasonal depression in the winter months.

Diet has been linked to depression. Most of my patients grew up with terrible dietary habits -- they had high intakes of caffeine, fried foods, sugar, white flour and other foods that feed yeast in the body. At our clinic we do take a holistic approach to the treatment of depression and try to cover all bases while we get to the cause.

My advice to anyone who is chronically depressed (i.e., unable to function due to depression) is to seek competent professional help immediately. I also offer, however, some basic information about combating your depression.

Begin your healing with the spiritual. All healing must take place at that level first. If you are not a spiritual person, take the time to learn about spiritual things or religion. You are missing a wonderful gift, for unless there is a marriage of the spiritual self and the physical self, life will remain unfulfilling. Prayer is always the best medicine.

Focus on the positive things in your life. I will admit that this is easier said than done, especially if you have never been taught how to focus on the positive. When you first wake up in the morning, thank the Creator that you are still here and breathing. That is the first of many positive things that happen each day. I once knew a man who could not see how well his son mowed the grass because of one piece of grass that was missed -- he focused on that one blade of grass still standing.

Self-criticism and the criticism of others should always be positive in nature. Congratulate yourself and others for the good things first. Then address what needs to be worked on in a positive way. Keeping a journal listing only the good things that happen each day -- even if it is only one good thing -- will also help. At the end of the day reflect on the good things that happened and thank the Creator for them. Everything happens for a reason. When bad things happen, try to find the hidden reason behind them. Then try to see the good that can come out of a bad thing.

We recently had a death in our family. A very bad thing. For years, parts of our family had not communicated with each other. There had been divorces, and quarrels that had led to ill feelings. The death in our family pulled everyone back together and now the past has been forgotten. Our family members are friends again. Life is an education. We can learn from the bad things that happen to us and apply them in a positive way, but to do this, you must learn to focus on the positive aspects of everything.

Don't allow your home to have a dark and gloomy atmosphere. Open the curtains in the daytime and let the light in. Remember -- light is positive and dark is negative. A dark environment will feed your depression and allow it to consume you with despair. Turn off the television and get outdoors. Enjoy nature and its many gifts. Studies have shown that those who spend more time outdoors than indoors suffer from depression less frequently. If it is a rainy day, its a good time for cleaning, or exercising indoors. Inactivity feeds depression. Force yourself to do something.

If you enjoy books on horror, violence, or negative things, try something different. Reading is a great way to combat depression but try to interest yourself in reading uplifting material that has a spiritual lesson to it and a positive outcome.

Force yourself to exercise daily. Exercise balances the release of neurotransmitters to the brain, stimulates the cardiovascular system, reduces stress and increases overall health and vitality. Just the fact that you accomplish sticking to an exercise program will lift your self-esteem and be a vital step in overcoming your depression.

Change your diet. Eliminate alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, fried foods, fatty foods, sugar, white bread, white flour and other yeast feeding items from your diet. Eliminate junk food and foods high in saturated fats. Make sure you get sufficient protein and complex carbohydrates. Poor diet interferes with the correct balance of neurotransmitters. Avoid red meat and pork. Chicken, turkey and fish are fine as long as they are lean and not fried.

People who are depressed often have vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Ensure that you take a good B-complex vitamin -- with B3, B6 and B12 -- each day. High doses of buffered vitamin C (3500mg a day and up) also seems to help, as does choline, inositol, lecithin, Gerovital H3, L tyrosine, aslavitol, megavital, calcium, magnesium, and chromium has also helped my patients.

Other supplements and herbs known for helping with depression are evening primrose oil, black currant oil, bee pollen, kava kava, St. John's Wort, passionflower, ginseng, ginko biloba and gotu kola. We treat all of our patients with a homeopathic constitutional remedy, which always helps. If you are placed on a constitutional homeopathic remedy, make sure you check with your homeopathic physician to see if any of these herbs will decrease the effectiveness of the remedy. Generally, anything with camphor, caffeine, nicotine and mint will adversely affect a homeopathic remedy.

Other recommendations are to eat fresh, raw fruits and vegetables, as well as soybeans and their byproducts. Diets too low in complex carbohydrates cause a deficiency in serotonin levels, increasing the risk of depression. Avoid Tyrosine and dairy products if you are taking an MAO inhibitor. They may cause high blood pressure. Have your blood sugar checked. Hypoglycemia has been linked with depression and many other psychological problems. Avoid oral contraceptives and steroids if you suffer from depression. Studies have shown that they may decrease serotonin levels in the brain. Above all, keep your mind and body active and get plenty of rest. Avoid stress as much as possible. Find an outlet for the stress that you do encounter.
Copyright 1998 Richard Cantrell
Comic copyright New Yorker Magazine, 7/23/01