Working with depressed patients, including myself, over the past four decades has taught me much about this debilitating condition. What I’ve noticed is that there are two basic levels of depression, each with a typical length of time to treat.
Both groups share at least some of the typical symptoms of depression: low motivation, loss of interest in life, fatigue, trouble sleeping, lack of appetite or overeating, feelings of sadness and/or grief, memory loss, low sex drive, addictive behaviour (alcohol, drugs, shopping, internet, gambling, etc.), back pain, exaggerated emotions, poor hygiene, hopelessness, anxiety, irritability and feeling suicidal.
The most important first things are to recognize the signs and then to assess each person carefully to determine the cause of their depression. This is in order to be able to give an effective treatment program as well as a realistic prognosis, which is quite different for each group.
The first group are those people with a clear, easily treatable cause who usually feel better within one to three months of treatment and can gracefully come off medication (in cooperation with their medical practitioner). Causes in this group include vitamin and mineral deficiencies; hormonal lows, such as hypothyroid and adrenal fatigue; dietary and lifestyle imbalances for their body type; liver congestion; sleep problems; seasonal depression; postpartum depression; and traumas that are recent and resolvable. These people tend to have a good health history, including a strong family foundation, and have not been depressed for longer than a year or two. They are used to having good energy and motivation before becoming depressed.
The second group has been depressed for a long time, sometimes their whole life, often starting in a childhood that is full of difficulty and dysfunction. They might struggle with addiction or have family members who do. On top of this may be any of the physical causes seen in the first group. These folks usually need to commit to a longer process of healing that includes developing psychological resilience that wasn’t learned as a child. More support is needed over years and even decades to manage mood, general health and lifestyle, providing the guidance and care that might have been missing in their formative years.
Of course, there are people who fit in-between these two groups and their treatment plan and prognosis would correspond to where they are on the spectrum.
It is vitally important that people have a true understanding of what needs to happen in order to heal their depression and not think that there is a quick fix when there isn’t—or in reverse, to realize that their situation is not as serious and can easily be treated.
The contents of treatment programs for depression are totally dependent on the cause, the person’s lifestyle, their body type and their ability to change.
The good news is that there are answers for most types of depression using natural medicine alone or in combination with medical drugs and psychological support. The key is to reach out for help and to find someone with whom one feels comfortable and in whom one is confident.
Here’s to riding out the rest of the winter as most people feel better with sun and warmth!