Depression, is it simply down to brain chemistry?
Posted on 21st June 2017 at 07:30
Over recent years the number of people diagnosed with Depression has rocketed, as have those taking antidepressant medication over the long term, particularly children. Earlier this year the World Health Organisation went so far as to label Depression as the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. It estimated that Depression now affects 322 million people worldwide, an increase of more than 18% over the decade to 2015.
To us these were truly shocking figures. And a sign that something is seriously wrong. Not only with the conventional approach to treating Depression – which is failing to help those affected – but in the way we live our lives.
So what on earth is going on? And, more importantly, what can be done to address it?
The conventional explanation for Depression is that it’s the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. That levels of serotonin – the so called “feel good” hormone – are too low, leading to feelings of sadness, hopelessness and a loss of interest in life. This is the reason that the majority of antidepressants are aimed at raising serotonin levels – usually by preventing it from being broken down – and so, the logic goes, treating Depression.
Unfortunately there is a major problem with this logic. The theory linking low serotonin levels with Depression is just that, a theory. There is no method by which a person’s serotonin levels can be tested. Well there is but only after they have died – and very shortly afterwards, as serotonin is broken down very quickly.
This means that Depression can only be diagnosed using a list of psychological symptoms. Not only are these quite general – and so could apply to many different conditions – but are based on what the Doctor / Psychiatrist observes on that particular day. In other words, a large amount of subjectivity is involved.
To illustrate how this works in practice, here are a selection of the symptoms used to diagnose Depression:
• Continuous low mood or sadness
• Feeling hopeless and helpless
• Having low self esteem
• Feeling tearful
• Feeling guilt ridden
• Feeling irritable and intolerant of others
• Having no motivation or interest in things
• Finding it difficult to make decisions
• Not getting any enjoyment out of life
• Feeling anxious or worried
• Having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself
• Moving or speaking more slowly than usual
• Low sex drive
• Disturbed sleep
When you take the time to look at these symptoms, it immediately becomes obvious how general they are. And how we’ve all experienced them at some time or other.
By continuing to base the treatment of Depression on the serotonin theory and a very general set of symptoms, this prevents other possible causes from being considered. And, more importantly, alternative approaches to help those concerned.
So let’s now consider Depression from a different perspective and have another look at the list of symptoms to see if there’s a common theme running through them.
To us, having seen many clients with this label, it jumps straight out. Perhaps to you it’s less obvious.
All the symptoms are indicators of low energy levels on an ongoing basis. Or, put another way, a lack of fuel in the tank.
We all know what it’s like to be tired for a day or two. Perhaps after a busy time at home – or work – or during those times when it seems to be “one thing after another.” Or after an illness. How easily you can end up being teary, helpless and irritable. And, as an aside, can you see how easily you could have been labelled as “depressed” had you seen your Doctor at that time?
By looking at things from this perspective a completely different set of possible causes are uncovered. Some obviously deplete energy levels on an ongoing basis, others are less so.
Let’s start with the possible psychological cause. Big life changing events and grief in all its forms. The loss of a loved one, breakup of a marriage or long term relationship, major financial problems, loss of a job.
Then there are the less obvious ones. The birth of a child or children leaving home. “Big birthdays”. Retirement. Nursing / caring for a loved one on an on going basis.
And what about the ongoing stresses and strains of modern life, which are different for all of us and affect us all in different ways. We’ll leave you to come up with your own particular list (!). The important thing to remember is that they gradually merge into the background, becoming “the norm” so we hardly notice them anymore. Often it’s not until someone else points them out that we notice the load we’re carrying on a daily basis.
Switching our focus to more physical causes, there are thyroid – or other hormonal – imbalances such as adrenal exhaustion or after childbirth, “Post Natal Depression”.
Or what about ongoing – chronic – health conditions? Sadly the numbers of those with chronic health conditions has soared in recent years. Often this involves pain and restricted movement too. Not only is any chronic condition physically draining, but mentally exhausting as well.
Then there’s one of our pet subjects (!), the western diet with its reliance on sugars / carbohydrates, unnatural fats and processed foods. All of these contribute to poor nutritional levels and so low energy levels. Put simply, if your body isn’t getting the resources it needs, then you’re not going to have good energy levels and be full of the joys of spring. The warning bells have already been sounded by the return of Ricketts and Scurvy – to name but two – but is anyone listening?
Sedentary lifestyles, coupled with a lack of time outside in natural light and fresh air – you’ll probably have heard about the link between a lack of Vitamin D and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – have both been shown to negatively impact on overall health, our natural rhythms and energy levels.
The toxic nature of modern life is becoming an increasing concern – and anyone who’s had a hangover will know exactly what toxicity feels like (!). Pollution of the air we breathe, food we eat and water we drink. E Smog in its many different forms, all of which have been shown to affect brain function and mood. Not forgetting any medications taken – both over the counter and on prescription – whether now or many years ago.
And here’s something you may not have considered. The lack of purpose so many people seem to have in their lives. True, there are always the financial reasons to do what we do, but do these put a spring in your step and song in your heart? Probably not.
To enjoy life to its full we all need a reason to get out of bed in the morning. One that makes us happy and fulfilled. Doing something you hate doing just for the pay packet at the end of the month – or, even worse, the hope of a happy retirement at some distant date – isn’t conducive to a happy or rewarding life. Just a thought.
Added to this is the increasing anonymity of the modern world. It’s ironic that more and more people are feeling lonely and isolated, despite there being more ways to communicate than ever before. Face to face communication – and time spent with those we care for – are priceless and can never be replaced by the latest gizmo; whatever the experts may tell you.
With so many different ways that our energy levels can be depleted on an ongoing basis – often without us ever realising it – is it any wonder that so called Depression is becoming an increasing problem? Or that the emphasis on the “fix all” serotonin theory just doesn’t work? A new approach is long overdue.
So, next week, we’ll be giving you lots of ways – 50 to be precise (!) – to improve your energy levels and raise your spirits. They are some of the many ideas we give clients and have stood the test of time. They can easily be made part of your normal routine and, even better, have lots of other health benefits too.
As always, the choice is yours.
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