Feeling depressed is not just a mental state. Depression is a debilitating whole-body condition that must be addressed physically as well as mentally. The whole- person approach accepts the body as a complex organism and looks for systemic reasons for depression. As Dr. Robert A. Anderson, founding president of the American Holistic Medical Association, says: “A definitive diagnosis of depression should not be made until physical conditions have been surveyed.”
The Importance of Physical Health for Depression Treatment and Recovery
The body is not merely along for the ride into depression. The body is an active participant, with the capacity to aggravate or improve symptoms of depression. The first stop on the road to recovery from depression for many people is a physician’s office. After all, they feel bad. Whatever the factors leading to their depression, many will attempt to obtain a medical diagnosis for physical symptoms.
There are studies showing that addressing physical conditions can have a dramatic effect in overcoming depression. Psychiatrist Richard Hall has found “evidence [of] dramatic and complete clearing of psychiatric symptoms when medical treatment for underlying physical disorders was instituted.”
The body holds its own special key to overcoming depression. Physical illnesses as well as physical conditions that may not be diagnosed or readily apparent can contribute to depression. Yet even when blood work and medical examinations are done, the physical culprits involved in depression can be overlooked. Like a detective, you need to be informed and persistent to discover the truth. To begin, let’s examine several known contributors to depression.
Medical and Health Conditions
HYPOGLYCEMIA – Hypoglycemia can cause weakness, mental dullness, confusion, and fatigue. All of these symptoms, when taken together, can exacerbate depression.
HEART DISEASE – Research shows that one out of every five people who suffer a heart attack will become depressed.
ANEMIA – Symptoms of anemia, similar to depression, include fatigue, weakness, and lethargy. It is difficult to experience mental alertness, optimism, or energy when your body is physically run down.
SLEEP APNEA – Those who suffer from sleep apnea fluctuate between gasping and suffocating. This pattern severely strains the body and makes getting a good night’s sleep impossible. The resulting symptoms are fatigue, mental confusion, and lethargy—all associated with a state of depression.
DIABETES – The constant up-and-down stress of elevated versus low blood-sugar levels can compromise the body’s ability to regulate important nutrient absorption and hormonal levels, which provide protection from depressive mood swings.
SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER (SAD) – SAD sufferers experience periods of moderate to intense depression during the winter.
HEREDITY – Depression appears to run in families. Educate yourself on the health background of your family, especially of parents or siblings who have experienced depression, whether clinically diagnosed or not.
DEHYDRATION – Dehydration impairs the body’s ability to perform vital functions, causing fatigue, weakness, dizziness, and mental dullness.
ENDOCRINE DISORDERS – When the endocrine system (comprised of the thyroid and adrenal glands) is not working properly, depression can result.
PUBERTY – The onset of puberty in both girls and boys can result in depression.
POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION – Also known as “the baby blues.” Many new mothers experience mild depression after the birth of a child. This is due to the drop of estrogen and progesterone levels after delivery, with symptoms usually fading within a week.
PREMENSTRUAL SYNDROME – This syndrome is linked to certain depressive symptoms: despondent mood, irritability, exhaustion, and bouts of crying.
MENOPAUSAL PHASES – Progesterone and testosterone production can decrease at a faster rate than estrogen, upsetting the proper balance, causing estrogen dominance. With this imbalance, mood changes can occur and depression may result.
LOW TESTOSTERONE – During the natural aging process in men, testosterone production decreases. Higher testosterone levels are known to produce vitality, lean muscle mass, lower body fat, and enhanced sexual performance. The lowering or loss of these functions produce depression in men as they age.
ALLERGIES AND SENSITIVITIES – Research reveals a link between depression and allergies. In one study, 70 percent of patients with a diagnosis of depression reported having a history of allergy.
Professional Depression Treatment Can Help
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 Robert A. Anderson, Clinician’s Guide to Holistic Medicine (NY: MacGraw-Hill Publishing, 2001), 243.
 R. C. W. Hall, E. R. Gardner, M. K. Popkin, and S. K. Stickney, “Unrecognized Physical Illness Prompting Psychiatric Admission: A Prospective Study,” American Journal of Psychiatry 138, no. 5 (May 1981): 629–35.
 I. R. Bell, M. L. Jasnoski, J. Kagan, and D. S. King, “Depression and Allergies: Survey of a Nonclinical Population.” Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics 55, no.1 (1991): 24–31.