Depression and complementary health approaches

Jessica Lewis
July 16, 2016

Have you ever felt hopeless, tired and low in energy? Do you often experience moods of deep sadness and no pleasure in meeting your friends and family or pursuing your hobbies? Are you also dealing with insomnia? If you answered yes to all these questions, you might have depression.

Being an incredibly complex disease, depression has no specific causes. It might appear in people going through a severe medical illness. It might manifest in individuals who deal with sudden life changes (divorce, the death of a loved person). Some people with depression have a family history with this disorder. Sometimes, people are going into depression with no apparent reason.

Is depression a form of mental illness?

It ‘s okay to feel sad from time to time, but these feelings and emotions usually pass after a few hours or days. Depression is a serious mental illness that changes your life pattern completely. You feel like you are not functioning properly in your personal or professional life. Sudden moods of sadness stay with you longer than normal.

Are there different forms of depression?

Doctors found out there are a few types of depression.

Major depression—this disorder occurs with severe symptoms that affect your capacity to sleep, work, study, and eat. This kind of depression can manifest only once in a person’s lifetime, but more and more people deal with several major depression episodes during their lives.

Dysthymia or dysthymic disorder—these depressive symptoms can last a long time, even two years or more. This type of depression, experts say, is less difficult to treat than major depression.

Minor depression—it is very similar to dysthymia and major depression, but symptoms are not very severe, and usually the person recovers fast.

Major Depression among American Adults?

Studies show that major depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States. This disorder disables people and modifies their behavioral patterns for years before these people can go back living a normal, fulfilling life. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, major depression is presented as a period of a couple of weeks (or longer for some people) during which the affected person is manifesting depressed moods and has a loss of interest in living life.

The normal functioning is affected, along with the ability to sleep, eat and work. Depressed people cannot concentrate properly, and they have a low self-esteem. Some depressive episodes are caused by the use of different substances. More than 6.7% of all American adults experienced a major depression episode in their lifetime (around 15.7 million adults).[1]

Symptoms of Depression

Different people can report having different symptoms during a depressive episode:

  • Feeling very tired
  • Having this deep feeling of sadness or “emptiness”
  • Reporting a loss of interest in pursuing favorite activities
  • Sleeping too much or not sleeping at all
  • Having aches or pains, cramps, headaches, or digestive problems
  • Feeling overwhelmed, anxious, irritable, or, in many cases, guilty
  • Not being able to concentrate for a long time and not being able to remember details
  • Having thoughts of suicide
  • Eating too much or eating very little

Causes of Depression

There are many factors which can lead to depression.

Abuse. If a person was abused physically, sexually, or emotionally it can become vulnerable and develop depression later in life.

Conflict. It is very common for depression to manifest in people dealing with conflicts with friends, family members or inner conflicts with themselves.

Specific medications. These drugs can increase the risk of depression: corticosteroids, Accutane (is used in the treatment of acne), barbiturates, benzodiazepines, opioids, anticholinergics, and specific antiviral drug such as interferon-alpha.

Genetics. If a person has a family history of depression, there are high chances that this person to go through at least one depressive episode in his or her life.

Death or a loss. When a person has a hard time in accepting the death of a close friend or family member, the sadness can lead to severe depression.

Other personal problems. If a person is excluded from a group and becomes socially isolated can develop depression. Is the same case for people who are being cast out of their family.

Major events. For some people handling changes in their lives is tough. They might get depressed when they modify the job when they graduate, when they are getting married or when they divorce.

Serious illnesses. Sometimes depression occurs when the person is dealing with a major disease or may be triggered by different medical problems.

Substance abuse. Almost 30% of people with substance abuse problems are dealing with clinical depression as well.

Is Biology Related to Depression?

Specialists have reported differences in the brains of people who experienced a clinical depression as compared to those people who did not. They noticed that the hippocampus (the small area of the brain that is essential to the storage of memories) appears to be smaller in people who had depression than in those who’ve never had a depressive episode. It seems like a smaller hippocampus has fewer serotonin components.

Serotonin is an important brain chemical. It is a neurotransmitter which is responsible for connecting different brain areas involved in processing emotions. Scientists have no evidence so far why the hippocampus is smaller in people with depression. Some studies reported that the stress hormone, called cortisol, is present in excess in depressed people’s organisms.

These studies concluded that cortisol has a toxic or “shrinking” effect on the healthy development of hippocampus. Other experts believe that depressed people are born this way. Having a smaller hippocampus increases their risk of suffering from depression.

Depression is a complex mental disorder with many contributing elements. The latest studies show that antidepressants can maintain nerve cells alive while it allows them to create stronger connections that eliminate biological stresses.

Genetics Linked to Depression

We know that some people having depression can sometimes come from a family with a long history with depressed members. This fact suggests that there might be a genetic link to depression. Different genes and the specific way in which they interact with one another probably contribute to the numerous types of depression that run in a family. Scientists believe that is not only one gene causing depression; but there might also be several of them and the way they interact with one another can lead to depression in a person or not.

Does depression affect in the same way different people?

As we said before, depression can affect different people in totally different ways.

Studies show that women experience depression more often than men do. The biological components, life cycle, and hormonal elements (unique to women) are linked to women’s higher depression rate. Depressed women feel sadness, guiltiness and an overall sensation of worthlessness.

When men have depression, they become irritable and sometimes angry. Most of them feel very tired. They easily lose interest in all work activities, and they have a hard time sleeping well.

If older adults experience depression, they do not express their feelings of sadness. Some of the symptoms might not even occur in older people. They also have medical problems such as heart disease or stroke, which may lead to depression. Different medications they take can also give them side effects that contribute to depression.

When a child is depressed usually refuses to go to school claiming that he or she is sick. These children have thoughts about a parent’s death. Teenagers can lose interest in school, or they can get involved in unpleasant situations. Some of these symptoms might be similar to common and normal growth mood swings of a young person.

The link between depression and chronic illness?

In many cases, a chronic illness can cause depression. We have to understand that a chronic disease has a particular status. This is an illness that lasts for a very long time, and usually, no cure is available for it. Many chronic diseases can very easy be controlled through diet, changed lifestyle, diet, physical exercises and particular medication. Experts believe that if you treat the depression than the severity of the illness can be improved as well. Here are some examples of severe health conditions that can lead to depression:

  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Heart disease
  • HIV
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • AIDS
  • Kidney diseases
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Lupus

Is Depression Linked to Chronic Pain?

When a person suffers from pain for weeks or months, this pain becomes chronic. This pain can change your life pattern completely; it disturbs your sleep, the way you interact with others, the ability to stay physically active and your productivity at work. That is why so many people dealing with chronic pain can feel isolated and depressed after a while. If you feel this way, or you know someone who lives with chronic pain and depression, you should know that psychotherapy, support groups, and other medical alternatives can help you or that person to overcome anxiety and depression.

Does Depression Often Occur With Grief?

Grief is a normal reaction when we lose someone. Losses can include the death of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job, and other major life changes.

Not all people who are grieving are going through depression as well. When a person is depressed, he has a low self-esteem, negative thoughts about himself and the future, even suicide thoughts. A person who is grieving has a feeling of longing for the loved one he or she has lost and a feeling of emptiness. Not all people experience grieving in the same manner.[2]

Depression Treatment

If you want to get the right treatment is recommended to visit a doctor or a mental health professional. The doctor can run some tests to determine for sure if you are dealing with depression. The same doctor can tell you if any of the medications you are taking are affecting your mental health.

The mental health professional should ask you a set of questions regarding your symptoms such as when the symptoms started, how difficult it is for you to deal with them, and how long they usually last. Make sure you tell the doctor if these symptoms occurred before, and if so, how they were treated. You might be asked about any history of depression in your family.

Antidepressants are pills which treat depression with success in most cases. It takes several weeks for you to see the results.

Be aware that antidepressants can give side effects such as:

  • Difficulty sleeping or nervousness
  • Headaches
  • Agitation
  • Nausea
  • Sexual issues

Even if most of the side effects disappear over time, it is recommended to consult your doctor about any side effects you might have.

It’s important to know that antidepressants are safe, and they can be effective for many people, but, in the same time, they may worsen some symptoms in children, teens, and young adults. The labels of these medications usually warn people about the risk of having suicidal thoughts or make suicide attempts while taking these pills.

If you are taking antidepressants, you should be monitored by your doctor, especially if this is the first time you are taking them. However, it is much riskier not to treat the depression than to take antidepressants.

Psychotherapy is a great way to treat depression. Psychotherapy is a healing method that helps people to change the way they are thinking and behaving, and this is how they can change toxic patterns that led to depression in the first place. This type of therapy can help you understand any difficult relationships you might have or situations that are causing your depression, or they are making it worse.

Can I help a loved one who is depressed?

If you know someone who has depression, it is important to guide him or her towards a mental health professional. Meanwhile, there are a few things you can do for that person:

Offer support, make that person feel understood, and do that with patience and encouragement.

Remind this person that depression will lift in time with proper treatment.

Pay attention if this person talks about suicide; make sure you report it to his or her therapist.

Talk to him or her, and always listen carefully.

Invite him or her out for walks in the park or to any other outdoor activities.

Can I help myself if I am depressed?

Once you start taking medication, you need to wait several weeks before you see any improvements in your mood. Start doing things that you enjoyed doing before the depression. Take it easy. Follow these recommendations:

Do not push yourself to do many things at the same time. Always break large tasks into small ones.

Make sure you talk about what you feel with a close friend or member of the family.

Do not forget or give up your medication. You will feel and see improvement in a couple of weeks.

It is recommended not to take life decisions until you feel better again. Make sure you discuss these decisions with people who know you well that you can count on.

Where should I go for help?

If don’t know any therapist, ask your family doctor. You can also look in the phone book for mental health professionals. Hospital doctors can help you as well if you go to the emergency room.[3]

Depression and complementary health approach

Lately, many studies show that complementary health approaches give excellent results in treating depression.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Some researchers suggest that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation may provide positive effects in adjunctive therapy in patients with a diagnosis of a major depressive disorder. Scientists need more facts before they can conclude that these acids can treat and heal depression.

In 2008, a study showed that these acids had positive effects in treating depressive symptoms in 75 participants suffering from bipolar disorder. The scientist didn’t report improvement for the mania symptoms.

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

In some cases, St. John’s wort had great results in treating mild and moderate major depressive episodes.

In 2012, a study examined the effects that St. John’s wort, sertraline and placebo had on different patients. After 26 weeks of treatment, the specialists concluded that all three methods gave similar effects in the studied patients.

In 2008, another study involving 5.489 patients with depression found that the extract of St. John’s wort gave better effects in people than placebo or antidepressants did.


Some studies reported that inositol had good results for people dealing with major depression


Acupuncture is an alternative healing method which on some patients can improve the overall well-being. Studies have no clear evidence that acupuncture can heal a depressed person.

Music therapy

There are many types of music available on the market. Some of them are for stress relief, others for anxiety and depression. Even if they cannot completely heal a depressed person, relaxing music is a way for that person to uplift his or her mood.

Relaxation Training

Meditation and relaxation techniques are two ways to improve the mood of a person suffering from depression. These techniques are providing to the affected person essential tools to reduce his or her stress level and to manage better negative thoughts.[4]