Posts

Physical Healing in Depression Recovery

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.” (1)

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.” (2)

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.

Mental and Health Conditions:

  • Hypoglycemia.  This can cause weakness, mental dullness, confusion, and fatigue.  All of these symptoms, when taken together, can exacerbate depression.
  • Heart Disease.  Research has shown that one out of every five people who suffer a heart attack will become depressed.  Conversely, a link between depression and heart disease was found in a study at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, which reported that depressed people were four times more likely to have a heart attack than people who were not depressed.
  • Anemia.  This is a condition in which the blood lacks iron.  Symptoms of anemia, similar to depression, include fatigue, weakness, and lethargy.
  • Sleep Apnea.  This is a condition where the air passages in the throat close off during sleep.  The resulting symptoms are fatigue, mental confusion, and lethargy — all associated with a state of depression.
  • Diabetes.  This is the body’s inability to regulate its own blood sugar.  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).  This depressive cycle — also known as the winter blues — is tied to the body’s secretion of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the body’s biological clock and coordinates the sleep-wake cycle.
  • Heredity.  Depression appears to run in families.  Educate yourself on the health background of your family, especially parents or siblings who have experienced depression, whether clinically diagnosed or not.
  • Dehydration.  Most people don’t drink enough water.  Dehydration impairs the body’s ability to perform vital functions, causing fatique, weakness, dizziness, and mental dullness.

For more information on mental and health conditions associated with depression, see Dr. Jantz’s new book, Five Keys to Dealing with Depression.

(1) Robert A. Anderson, Clinician’s Guide to Holistic Medicine (NY: MacGraw-Hill Publishing, 2001), 243.

(2) 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

Being Intentional in Your Response to Depression

What do we do when life feels like it’s piling on top of us?  In depression, we bury our optimism, hope, and joy and react with anger, fear, or guilt, allowing overwhelming circumstances to knock us flat.  Emotional depression can become an automatic reaction to life’s trials.  Reactions are automatic, but responses need not be.  Depression does not have to be automatic.

Even if we may immediately react negatively, we can learn to intentionally reassert positive emotions.  This may not be our first reaction, but our first reaction doesn’t need to be our only response.  Albert Einstein once said, “You can’t solve a problem on the same level that it was created.  You have to rise above it to the next level.”  Our reactions are on one level, but we can learn to take our responses to the next level.

The next level above automatic reaction is intentional response.  You need to be intentional in your response to life and its circumstances.  You need to deliberately recognize, promote, and sustain optimism, hope, and joy.  In the midst of depression, the thought of sustaining even a modicum of positive feelings may appear overwhelming, a burden too heavy to bear.  But aren’t you already carrying around the weight of emotional baggage?  Think how much energy it takes to carry around anger, fear, and guilt.  When you begin to put those emotions down, you will find strength for optimism, hope, and joy.

Negative emotions may be part of your personal landscape.  If that is the case, you’ll need to intentionally seek out and rediscover optimism, hope, and joy.  Optimism, hope, and joy are responses that come from within you and are not necessarily derived from your outside circumstances.  Regardless of the circumstances, you determine to remain optimistic; you decide to have hope; you derive joy.

Intentionally choosing how to respond to life is not a trivial matter; this attitude can save your life.  In his book Man’s Search of Meaning, Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl set forth to answer the question why some people lived through the Nazi Germany concentration camps and some did not.  He found that it rarely had anything to do with their physical state.  Some prisoners who were extremely debilitated or ill continued to live, while some others who were in much better physical shape died.  The difference, he found, was in their attitude to life.

Frankl discovered that in the final analysis, strength for living is found in the ability to choose your attitude — your response — to any given situation.  The situations he and others dealt with on a daily basis were deprivation, starvation, physical disease, and beatings.  Yet in the midst of the hell of the concentration camp, he and others intentionally chose to respond with optimism and hope.

Frankl, who could find positives in the midst of a Nazi concentration camp, demonstrates that each of us has the opportunity to find positives in our own situations.  We will not always have control over our circumstances, but we can determine to hold on to optimism, hope, and joy — to recognize them, promote them, and sustain them.  This is the challenge for those who are depressed.

Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE  and author of 30 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, and others.

Study Supports the Existence of Depression Gene

As reported by WebMD, a new study indicates that those with a depression gene may respond to stress different than those without the gene.

The meta study, which was published in the January 2011 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, said that those with a short variation of the serotonin transporter gene, also known as 5-HTTLPR, are more likely to become depressed when faced with stress. These findings were the result of analyzing 54 depression studies published between 2000 and 2010 that involve more than 41,000 participants.

However, despite the finding, researchers do not recommend gene testing because the gene’s effect on depression risk is still unknown.

However, scientists are hopeful that this study will prompt more research into how depression affects the brain and, ultimately, more effective treatments for depression.