The United States has one of the highest rates of depression in the world. An estimated 1 in 6 (16.6%) of us are diagnosed with a major depressive episode at some point in out lives and this does not include those of us who suffer from milder cases of the blues that aren't diagnosed. A 2011 study of prescribing habits found antidepressants to be the most highly prescribed class of drugs in the United States. Unfortunately, research has found that antidepressants aren't effective for everyone - especially those with milder symptoms.
Fortunately there are a number of non-drug approaches to treating and preventing depression. These approaches may be used with or without treatment with medication. Dr. Stephen Illardi, a psychologist at the University of Kansas, has tested a number of them in his practice and has developed a program that he calls Therapeutic Lifestyle Change (TLC). He shares about the six core strategies in his book, The Depression Cure. As you read them, you'll see that many of them are common-sense self-care practices that have many other benefits!
1) Eat sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. Our brain is made up of 60% fat - the same fat that makes up all the cell membranes in our bodies. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that make high-quality nerve cell membranes. They are called "essential" fatty acids because you need them, but your body can't make them — so you must get them from your food. Research has found Omega-3s to have positive effects on depression.
2) Find engaging activities to keep your brain busy. When our minds are left to wander, they may fall into non-productive patterns like worry and rumination that produce negative moods. In the coaching world, we often talk about "the inner critic", and the destructive impact of letting him or her "run the show". Through mindfulness, we can begin to notice when we are involved in non-productive or compulsive thinking patterns. Once we notice these patterns, we can consciously shift the focus of our attention to something positive.
3) Get regular physical exercise. Physical exercise helps relieve stress, elevate mood, and improve sleep - all of which counter the effects of depression. Researchers have found positive effects when prescribing exercise as a treatment for depression.
4) Get enough sunlight. The sun is a powerful regulator for hormones that affect our mood, sleep, and metabolism. Light therapy has been used effectively for years for people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a depressed mood disorder that is linked to reduced exposure to sunlight in winter. Research has also found it to have a positive effect on nonseasonal depression. Whether you get light from being outdoors or a light box, it can really boost your mood!
5) Maintain strong social support. One of the paradoxes of depression is that it prompts people to isolate themselves at a time when they could especially benefit from strong social support. Research has found that strong social support is linked with prevention of depression and improvement in depression symptoms.
6) Get enough good-quality sleep. It's common sense — our brains just work better when we get enough sleep! Poor sleep aggravates depression and studies have found that addressing insomnia improves depression.
What about you? Have you found any of these self-care strategies helpful in treating depression or elevating your mood? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!