Depression: it’s a diagnosis no one wants to hear – for a lot of different reasons.
It’s All In Your Head
When you’re suffering from things like nausea, insomnia, weight gain, fatigue, or back pain, the last thing you want to hear from your doctor is that it isn’t real. That it’s all in your head.
And that’s what we think when we hear the word ‘depression’.
We’re being written off. They can’t find what’s really wrong, so they’re blaming us. As if we were imagining our physical symptoms, or conjuring them into existence. As if we could stop them, if we really put our mind to it.
And sometimes, that is the case. Sometimes, when doctors don’t know what might be causing your problems, they will try antidepressants as a last resort. Because as smart as most doctors are, even they can be stumped. And because sometimes, antidepressants work, when nothing else will.
The reason they work is that many physical symptoms, like weight gain, fatigue, insomnia, and pain, really are related to depression. And lifting you out of that depression can help those symptoms improve.
But this doesn’t mean it’s all in your head. It means that our physical health and our mental health are related. Those physical symptoms are no less real than if they had a physical cause. They are real. But knowing what is behind them can help us treat them.
The standard treatment for depression, in conventional medicine, is antidepressant medication.
Sometimes, these medications can be incredibly helpful. But other times, not so much. They can have some pretty depressing side effects, from weight gain to suicidal thoughts. And when the time comes to wean off of them, you can go through withdrawal symptoms – for some, these are pretty mild, but for others, they are intolerable.
Understandably, there are mixed feelings about antidepressants. Some people reach out for those medications eagerly, as they would a lifeline. But others are more hesitant.
Whether you choose to use antidepressant medications or not, alternative treatments can be incredibly helpful in fighting off the symptoms of depression – both physical and mental.
Treating Depression Naturally
Antidepressant medications alone often have lacklustre results. They can help make things easier, but usually have more success when combined with supportive therapies.
If you choose not to use medication, your Naturopathic Doctor can provide alternatives, such as certain herbs which can be as effective as antidepressants for mild – moderate depression.
Either way, it is usually a combination of treatments that is most effective.
Counselling – by a psychiatrist, psychologist, counsellor, or even a naturopath – is extremely important. People rarely become depressed for no reason. Counselling can help you discover and deal with the root cause of your depression.
Lifestyle changes can also make a huge difference. Depression often breeds behaviours – such as oversleeping, staying indoors, and avoiding friends & family – that ultimately make your depression even worse. Changing these behaviours is key to breaking this destructive cycle.
Nutrition is often an overlooked factor. Our bodies and minds require certain nutrients, in certain amounts. When any of these are lacking, we can start to feel pretty yucky. Preparing well-balanced, healthy meals can be challenging at the best of times. When we’re depressed, it can become almost impossible. Some people lose their appetite entirely when depressed, while others will crave sugar-laden foods devoid of vitamins and minerals.
Your naturopathic doctor can work with you to identify which natural therapies might be most helpful for you. She can use herbal or homeopathic remedies, acupuncture, or massage, to support your healing process safely and naturally. And she can provide knowledge and guidance to help you implement changes.
- Social interaction
- Light therapy
- Diet & Nutrition
Naturopathic Care for Depression
As with most chronic conditions, treating depression may take time.
At your first appointment, your naturopath will go through your symptoms and your health history. She may perform some simple physical exams to help rule out serious physical ailments that may be contributing to or resulting from your symptoms. She will evaluate the severity of your depression, and try to identify any co-morbidities, such as anxiety.
By the end of your 1st appointment, your naturopath should be able to tell you if she believes you will need additional support from other health professionals and specialists, or if she feels capable of treating you alone. She will also likely recommend 1 or 2 simple treatments to begin with.
Your naturopath will probably want to see you every 1-2 weeks for the first month or two. At each appointment, she will re-evaluate your symptoms and track your progress, and provide additional treatments or guidance as necessary. As you feel yourself improving, and become more confident in your ability to maintain this momentum, you will need to see your naturopath less often.
Ultimately, the goal is to equip you with the tools you need to maintain optimal mental and physical health, with only occasional check-ups to ensure you continue to feel your best.
Dr. C.M. Gibson, ND, is currently practicing in 3 communities along the north shore of Lake Superior, in Thunder Bay, Red Rock, and Terrace Bay, Ontario. She accepts patients of all ages.