As part of R U Ok Day (suicide awareness) which falls on September 12 this year, I decided to write a blog on my thoughts on depression.
The word ‘Depression’ is unfortunately still very much misunderstood amongst people these days. It’s often confused with mere sadness, some people just think it’s a plain cop out, laziness or an inability to ‘suck it up’. Maybe it’s because mental illness doesn’t always have physical symptoms the way, other illnesses and conditions do. People often feel more sympathy towards those who are blind, are confined to wheel chairs as they can see the physical evidence there in front of their eyes. I even once had someone tell me they thought depression was made up and just for an excuse lazy people use when they can’t be bothered doing things like going to work. It’s not until someone suffers from depression themselves, has someone close to them suffer from it or they study it in their psychology or medical degrees, do people become more empathetic towards those suffering from it. This is often the case with most mental health issues.
Lately there have been a few key celebrities and well known business people here in Australia admitting to suffering from depression, and I’ve read people’s comments about how could someone so rich be depressed? Quite easily, as depression isn’t sadness, it’s much, much more than that! It doesn’t just target the poor or the people on average incomes. The only difference with these celebrities is that a lot of them have more money to spend on the best of care, yet have the additional pressure of living in the spotlight and being criticised harshly.
For this reason, a lot of people keep their diagnosis to themselves, so they are not judged, bullied and discriminated against. I am one of those people, as I‘ve suffered from bullying and being discriminated against as a teenager and an adult when working in the public service.
I’ve suffered from depression for the past 26 years (since the age of 11) due to post traumatic stress disorder while on an overseas school trip, which resulted in amnesia, major depression and anxiety. It’s something that’s very much a part of me and that I’ve learned that I will always have and I need to practice self-care on a daily basis so that it doesn’t get the better of me. When I fell pregnant for the second time last December, the change in hormones led to a relapse and resulted in me being bed ridden for nearly 48 hours. Luckily, so far I haven’t suffered from post-natal depression, but it’s definitely something that’s on my radar and the people I’m closest to. I am a different person due to the PTSD than I would have been had it not happened. I am one of the lucky ones who has gotten the care that I need. My cousin Garry wasn’t so lucky. He had suffered from his own trauma with his brother dying in a tragic motor bike accident and losing his father to cancer and as a result turned to drugs and alcohol which exacerbated his depression. His mother told him she was worried that if he didn’t turn his life around that she would find him dead in his house one day, unfortunately that was exactly what happened to him. It happened during my first Yoga Teacher training in Bali in 2012, and greatly saddened me as he didn’t get the help he needed and deserved. This is tragic in itself and all too common in the world today.
Dr Timothy McCall medical doctor and yoga therapist and author of Yoga as Medicine describes clinical depression as persistently sad, hopeless and sometimes agitated state that profoundly lowers the quality of life, and which if untreated can result in suicide. He also says that when physicians use the word depression they don’t mean feeling disappointed or blue, or grieving a loss as these are normal moods that everyone experience from time to time.
From my studies with Dr McCall, I’ve learnt about the difference in western medicine where they use reductionist techniques versus yoga and traditional Chinese medicine where they use holistic techniques. Holism is the idea of looking at the whole (considering every aspect of the person; body, mind and spirit) and favours gentler, natural remedies, but when necessary, selectively uses the best reductionist tools too such as prescription medicine. Reductionism, in distinction is the effort to reduce the complexity of a disease process to one or sometimes a few elements, which can be studied and then treated one at a time. The crucial thing to understand is that reductionist approaches are generally riskier than holistic ones. As they can be powerful and often work more quickly, where as holistic ones are gentler and slower. However, Dr McCall is not against using anti-depressant etc when it’s absolutely necessary.
How would I describe Depression? Numbness, being completely overwhelmed with one’s life and the world around. At its worse it can cause a person to attempt to take their own life, to harm them self so that they can feel something other than numbness, or maybe it just means that having the will power and energy to get out of bed is just too much!
There are many causes of depression other than PTSD, hormonal changes, food intolerances, candida, low amino acid profile, vitamin B 12 deficiency, chemical imbalances, low iron, gut flora issues, stress, insomnia and the list goes on!
My biggest gripe with medical doctors today, is that they most of them treat the symptoms rather than the cause with a reductionist approach. They hand you over a prescription for an anti-depressant and that’s it, maybe some counselling if you’re lucky. This is what happened to my cousin and it wasn’t enough. Anti-depressants can sometimes make things worse and yes they can sometimes be necessary and be an absolute godsend! I would love to see a world where doctors take a more holistic approach to mental health. For example, run blood tests and see if there are any vitamin and mineral deficiencies, use counselling, yoga, exercise and a healthy diet as part of the treatment plan. Perhaps consult with a yoga therapist and a naturopath, who can help with this.
In yoga therapy we divide depression into two types, Tamasic Depression and Rajasic (anxiety/stress fuelled) depression which is different to how it’s treated in western medicine. If one patient has tamasic depression and the other rajasic, your approach as a yoga therapist may need to be very different.
Amy Weintraub who is a pioneer if the field of Yoga for mental health, founder of LifeForce Yoga and the author of Yoga for Depression and Yoga Skills for Therapists (as well as other yoga teachers ad therapists) have given many of us other resources for treating depression. I am so grateful to these people as it has improved my wellbeing beyond my expectations.
My self care plan other than prescribed medication, consists of the following: daily Lifeforce Yoga practice (asana, pranayama/kriya, meditation), amino acids (when not pregnant and breast feeding) such as NAC and L-Tryptophan, Vitamin B 12 supplement (as I’m deficient and this can cause depression), daily fish oil supplement, nutritious diet that is predominantly gluten free as gluten has been shown to exacerbate depression, improving gut flora with probiotics, collagen and tolerated fermented foods, avoiding alcohol, getting adequate sleep, physical activity other than yoga.
So, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask someone R U Ok? Try not to judge and see depression as a cop out either, if you’ve never suffered from it, how would you know how it feels?
Below is a photo of books I recommend on depression.