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