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An holistic approach to dealing with depression



Viv Spears lost a close relative to suicide. That death prompted an examination of treatment for depression and the holistic approach that is necessary…


Depression is something that most of us have brushed upon at some time in our lives — whether someone close to us has suffered from it, or we have fallen deeply ourselves. A graze here and there or a full blown malaise that lasts for weeks or months, are varying degrees but with certain things in common.

I am not an expert by any means, but I have been interested enough to find out more about the ‘why’ and ‘what’ surrounding ever increasing rates of depression. Why is it happening? How low do we go? What does it take to consider suicide? I

remember my cousin and I having our photo taken together, because we were born a month apart. The obligatory “stand next to each other — closer! CLICK!”, is etched in my memory as a form of connection. I didn’t see him very often as we were geographically miles apart. The last time was at my son’s 3rd birthday party. He ‘hasn’t been feeling right’, his wife spoke for him. The fact he sat quietly as a 3rd party should have been a red flag for me. I directed my question at him and asked what he thought might be wrong. This time he spoke for himself — albeit a tired and flat monotone — just brushing it off as ‘a fluey kind of thing’.

I had no reason not to believe him, although something seemed off. I did wonder if he was happy. One morning three months later, he went to the doctors for another check-up. ‘Ah, well at least it’s not depression’ the GP informed. That afternoon he took his own life.

Years later, I was standing on the kerbside of a busy New York freeway and I was thinking about him. I was under a lot of pressure and feeling raw — empty. I was nowhere near suicidal — I knew that — but I felt nothing. This feeling of hopelessness helped me understand a little bit more about how and why someone might take their own life. It was the first time after many years that I was starting to understand. No —suicide isn’t selfish. That would require some kind of manipulative thought, some kind of purpose, some kind of victory — all of which point to some kind of future.

Instead, these feelings of either shame, loneliness, PTSD, depression or hopelessness, reach the limit of what they can bear — for them, there is no future. These feelings and experiences can cause pain so overwhelmingly intense that it drowns out any internal whisper of encouragement and washes away potential routes to healing I research everything that I write about — unless its a personal experience that I feel is worth sharing.

And so I wanted to share a little of Johann Hari’s Lost Connections book on the the subject of depression. It might sound like a gloomy subject for me to focus on, but stay with me. As there is always darkness before the dawn, there is also light at the end of this tunnel.

What follows are Hari’s conclusions after years of travelling the globe and interviewing social scientists, doctors, academics as well as his own training as a sociologist. The book is a bit of an exposé of the Big Pharma corps and — although we have heard rumours — it’s only when we see actual facts that we straighten our spines and take note.

For example, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) only need to see success from two trials to pass a drug. What this means is, that, if out of 1000 trials, only 2 trials have a successful outcome for the support of a certain drug — i.e., 998 didn’t show any positive effect — the drug would still be passed for human consumption. It just takes 2 trials. Mind blowing — especially when anti-depressants are handed out like sweeties.

As he was prescribed anti-depressants for over 10 years, Johann Hari understands that they do have a place — they helped him initially, but then they became the problem — not the answer. Aside from the efficacy rate, which is pitifully low — and backed up by eye watering studies in the book — the relapse rate of depression is huge, which is why people stay on them for years, take higher and higher doses, and make themselves sicker and sicker. Why? Because we have been led to believe that depression is some kind of brain disease, a misfiring of neurons— a brain malfunction.

‘You are not suffering from a chemical imbalance in your brain. You are suffering from a social and spiritual imbalance in how we live’. ~ Johann Hari

So, where does this leave us? Actually, it leaves us with a window. A new view. If antidepressants are not the answer for long term recovery, then let’s look at what might be. And I should add here, that I am not undermining the seriousness of depression and I’m aware that the following could even seem trite, but I wouldn’t be writing about them if they hadn’t been backed up by science.

Community is paramount.

We need each other. We are not supposed to live in isolation, communicate digitally, and have no interaction with other humans. When we are part of a community, we have a sense of belonging, and when we feel we belong we are a part of something — not apart. Click on the link for a fascinating study that proves the positive effect of community with regards to our health.

Social media.

We all know it. Comparison is the thief of joy and social media not only promotes it, but robs us of our sanity. I don’t say that lightly. Think of the wasted time idling through swipes and scrolls. Its addictive of course, for the now well known dopamine hits but its also played a huge part in speeding everything up when we most need to slow down. Social media connects us in one way but isolates us in others.

And that leads onto values.

We need to focus on how we spend our time. When did we hand over this power to technology? Have we lost our sense of value? I believe this is where we start to slide away from our intuitive selves — this is something I will be writing about soon. Intuition is our inherent birthright, yet if we aren’t careful, its intrinsic value will be lost in history. When did shopping and image become far more interesting than being in nature? Where did unconditional love go? When did isolation, hiding behind screens and doctored images of ourselves become bigger than real face to face connection. And when did we stop listening?

A sense of purpose

This is the motivation that drives you toward a satisfying and fulfilling future. Without it we can lose the will to live. But it doesn’t have to mean reaching some lofty goal, but it has to be big enough to get out of bed in the morning. Working for a good cause of course would be a great example, but again — worthiness comes in many forms. Helping a neighbour, joining a choir, a 12 step programme, buying the next person in line a coffee. These are all values that also rely on community. Meaningful work will not only pay the bills but will help you feel like you belong to something bigger than yourself.

Get out in nature.

But leave the phone at home. We are a part of nature, not apart from it. Know this. Go, get lost in the woods, the park, an avenue, or just look up to the sky and watch the birds.

And lastly, realise that society has played a huge role in however you are feeling. It’s not you. You may have been a victim of something unspeakable, but thats on us as a collective. It’s on the way the world has become. Its on our isolation from each other, our negligence of the planet, our belief systems that have been herded by the wrong shepherds, our judgements, our constant pursuit of perfection, our perverse idea of success, our abuse of precious time and most of all, our decreasing values of loving kindness and compassion.

There are other therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Mindfulness-based CBT (MBCT) that have had wonderful outcomes. In fact it was the latter therapy that showed that a course of MBCT cut relapse in severe depression by around 50 per cent. The more we talk about depression, the more we build awareness. The more we help each other, the more we connect.

The more we connect, the more we love. And love has no boundaries.