Depression: The High Cholesterol and Diabetes of Mental Health
“Depression is nothing more than a sadness problem. You just need to ‘get over it’. Do something that makes you happy”. Have you heard this? I have… too many times.
I have lost count of the number of times I have explained that depression is a mental health disease. And just like any other disease, one simply cannot “just get over it”. Diseases must be diagnosed and treated properly and depression is no different. Does that mean we have to automatically “pop a pill” to make us well? Not necessarily. It is true that prescription medications may be necessary for some, and we should know and accept that. For others, there are natural methods that might be used to manage depression. It all depends on the severity of the disease. (Note that I didn’t say “cure” depression. I’m not sure it can ever be cured. Someone suffering from clinical depression may battle it for a lifetime.)
How is it diagnosed?
Since depression is a distinct subset of the mental health diseases, it must be diagnosed by a healthcare professional; usually a physician or psychologist. But how do you know that you should seek the opinion of your health care provider?
Seek professional attention if…
Web MD notes a person may be suffering from depression if they are having five or more of the following symptoms for at least two weeks:
- A depressed mood during most of the day, especially in the morning
- Feeling tired or have a lack of energy almost every day.
- You feel worthless or guilty almost every day.
- Having a hard time focusing, remembering details, and making decisions.
- Inability to sleep or you sleep too much almost every day.
- You have almost no interest or pleasure in many activities nearly every day.
- Frequent thoughts about death or suicide (not just a fear of death).
- Feeling restless or slowed down.
- You’ve lost or gained weight.
A person may also:
- Feel irritable and restless
- Lose pleasure in life
- Overeat or stop feeling hungry
- Have aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that don’t go away or get better with treatment
- Have sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
What causes depression?
There are many causes, but one of the most common is a deficiency in our brains of the chemical dopamine. Many times, the deficiency of dopamine is caused by a physiological change in the brain. This is where we can see depression not as a “sadness” type of depression, but more of a “chemical” depression.
What is dopamine and what does it do?
Dopamine is one of many chemicals in the brain responsible for transmitting signals between nerve cells. Dopamine specifically affects your emotions, and your sensations of pleasure and pain. It is commonly known as the “feel-good” chemical. The emotions you feel upon an accomplishment are directly related to increases in your brains dopamine level.
So how do we manage depression?
Let’s look back at the title of this article. I reference depression as the high cholesterol and diabetes of mental health. Obviously, the etiologies of these three diseases are much different, and not related in any way. However, I believe that my analogies to both disease and treatment will allow you to understand why a certain method of treating depression works for one person, but it may take another type of treatment to manage a second persons disease.
We’ll look at elevated cholesterol first. High cholesterol, especially LDH (easily remembered as “lethal”) cholesterol, can be somewhat controlled by diet and exercise. By increases in physical activity and changes in the types of food a person eats, most people’s LDH cholesterol will decrease. As a side benefit of the activity and dietary changes, most people’ HDL (easily remembered as “healthy”) cholesterol will increase. However, a percentage of the population has elevated cholesterol due solely, and unfortunately, to genetic factors. No amount of exercise and eating right will change their numbers. Those people must be treated with drug therapy to decrease and control their cholesterol.
Let’s now look at the diabetes analogy. It is a little more complicated than the cholesterol analogy, but be patient, it will explain itself. Diabetes is a disease that is caused when our body cannot use the sugar that we take in. Sugar, in its microscopic form, is used to feed the cells of our body. Sugar however, cannot pass through the cell wall by itself. It needs a “key” to unlock the wall. That key is a chemical our body creates in the pancreas, called insulin. There are two different forms of diabetes, type I and type II. A person with type I diabetes has a pancreas that no longer creates insulin. A type II diabetic’s pancreas still functions and creates insulin, but that person’s body has become resistant to the insulin and cannot absorb it efficiently.
So here is the analogy, because a person with diabetes type II still has a working pancreas, the initial treatment starts with lifestyle changes. Specifically, weight loss and eating habit changes. We have found that for many people, simply losing weight cures their type II diabetes. They may also have to take an oral medication to boost their insulin efficiency while the change in lifestyle is taking place..
A type I diabetic has a pancreas that is no longer working. It does not produce any insulin so they must take insulin every day for the rest of their lives.
So now, let’s get back to depression.
Like elevated cholesterol, and like diabetes, depression treatment can take two different paths. Generally, a homeopathic method may be tried first. Moreover, Mild depression may respond by naturally increasing the bodies dopamine level. A balanced diet, adequate sleep, exercise, listening to music, meditating, and spending time in the sun can all boost dopamine levels.
If the person’s depression is severe however, it may take the addition of medications to manage. Since a chemical imbalance in the brain may be increasing the severity of depression, a physician may prescribe drugs known as anti-depressants to help correct the bodies chemical imbalance.
Per the American Psychiatric Assn’s website: “Depression affects an estimated one in 15 adults (6.7%) in any given year. And one in six people (16.6%) will experience depression at some time in their life.” I am sure all of us know of someone that has been affected by depression. You may be fighting you own battles with the disease. In whatever way depression has entered your life, I hope this little bit information helps you. Please, don’t be shy about asking for help. We are all out there as one community, one family of brothers, sisters, and families that are there for help. Always.
See you on the mat – Namaste