by Katherine Willow, ND

Depression is unfortunately a common experience in our culture, so we had quite a few people at the last Open House talk on Nov 7th at Carp Ridge Healing House.  We began with introductions and many people there shared current or past struggles with depression, including yours truly.

The keynote to depression that differs from simple sadness is a lack of interest in life which can vary from a reluctance in getting out of bed in the morning, to not getting out of bed at all, to being withdrawn and suicidal.  Or it can manifest as various other symptoms such as sleep disorders (waking too early, insomnia, etc) and addictive behaviours.

Naturopathic medicine looks for the causes of a complaint in order to create a focussed treatment plan and so we examined the roots of depression, simplifying them into physical and psychological aspects.  Here is a brief summary of some common factors in each:

Physical~ these are often contributing factors, and when they are  primary, progress in mood improvement can be fast when treated effectively:

  • deficiencies — vitamin D/sunlight, iron, B complex, low nutrients in general
  • lack of sleep, exhausted adrenal glands (burnout), low thyroid,  low serotonin (treatable)
  • not enough time for nurturing self
  • no exercise, or not enough exercise
  • excesses: toxins in the liver, overwork, congestive foods (especially dairy and wheat), excess of food in general

Psychological~

  • unresolved pain/trauma that is being ignored or suppressed, sometimes going back to childhood
  • unfulfilling work, relationships, living space, creative outlet, spirituality — without the hope of changing these situations

These two lists are definitely not complete, and sometimes there needs to be an extensive investigation of what is underlying an individual’s depression, including a broad range of lab tests and honest soul-searching in order to become aware of why one has little or no joy in life.

Once there is a clear picture of what is actually going on, it is evident what needs to be done.  Physical treatments for depression include revitalizing and/or cleansing diets for sluggish systems; nutrients and glandulars to rebuild a weak body; lifestyle changes to re-stimulate body and mind and specific herbal and homeopathic remedies which rekindle one’s spark.

When the cause is psychological, we encourage the person to face the underlying issues — if they are able.  Old traumas can be acutely painful and sometimes one needs to progress very slowly within a safe context.  However, there are new therapies which take the edge off this pain, including Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), hypnotherapy, Journeywork (one of the favorites in our clinic) and EMDR (a technique that uses eye movements). And of course there are the old standbys such as constitutional homeopathy and the well-studied herb St. John’s Wort.

In rare cases we will suggest a person take medical antidepressants in order to be able to function well enough to even begin a natural program and then wean off as they don’t need them.  All of these tools (including the physical ones) allow a person to deal more easily with what has been making them depressed so that they can move on with their life.

This is easy to write or suggest to a patient.  But the reality is that sometimes solving depression takes a long time, even decades if it has been in the family for generations — although we have seen minor miracles in even these situations when the person is ready to heal (which is both an attitude and a grace).

In chronic cases, ongoing loving and nonjudgemental support is not only crucial, it can be lifesaving.  During the talk we spoke of all the varieties of support that are available in our area, including hospitals, recovery organizations and spiritual groups/churches, where a person learns that they are accepted just as they are.

Treating depression is well within our training as naturopathic doctors and we welcome people with this debilitating condition to come in for an individual assessment and treatment program.  For myself, this has to be one of the most satisfying things in my practice, to watch a person come back to life after suffering with depression.   Believe me, I know the feeling!

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