Depression: treatments and remedies


1st Jan 2015 Wellbeing

Depression: treatments and remedies

Depression is usually linked to a combination of medical, genetic and environmental factors. Severe depression can be treated with medication and therapy, and for mild to moderate depression there are several remedies to try to see if they work for you.

Are you suffering from depression? Check the symptoms of depression here.


Lifestyle tips to treat depression

Get out and move your body. Numerous studies have confirmed that frequent exercise can be a powerful mood enhancer. For mild or moderate depression it may even work as well as antidepressants. All you need is at least 20 minutes’ worth of aerobic exercise 3 times a week. Walk, lift weights, jump a skipping rope, cycle–any form will do. Work up a sweat to get the best effect.

Get enough sleep. Studies have shown that people who consistently get less than 8 hours of sleep a night tend to have lower serotonin levels than those who get a full night's rest. To help ensure a good sleep every night, try to go to bed at the same time of an evening and rise at the same time each morning–even at weekends.

Turn the television off. Research suggests that the longer you watch television, the more your mood suffers. Watching hours of sitcom repeats, movie marathons or game shows may seem a good way to relieve stress, but contrary to this, studies have shown that people who watch a lot of television tend to have intensified feelings of isolation.

Try to attend a place of worship regularly, whatever your religion. In a study of 4,000 older people, researchers found that those who frequently attended religious services were half as likely to be depressed as those who didn't.


Supplements for depression

Take SAM-e, pronounced ‘sammy’. In many European countries, the effectiveness of SAM-e against depression is so widely accepted that the supplement is often prescribed by doctors. SAM-e is a naturally occurring substance found in every living cell, and low levels have been linked with depression. (Caution: Do not take SAM-e if you have manic depression – it can precipitate episodes of mania.)

Take acetyl-L-carnitine tablets or capsules. Acetyl-L-carnitine helps to increase energy production in brain cells, protect nerve cell membranes and improve both mood and memory.

The mineral magnesium is very important for restoring and maintaining healthy nerve function. Take 150mg of magnesium, preferably as magnesium citrate (the form most easily absorbed), twice a day. If you take magnesium supplements, be sure to take calcium supplements as well. Imbalances in the amounts of these 2 minerals in the body can reduce their beneficial effects.

Take a vitamin B-complex supplement each morning with breakfast. Low levels of B vitamins have been linked with depression and fatigue. Look for a brand with 50mcg of vitamin B12 and biotin, 400mcg of folic acid and 50mg of the other B vitamins (but note that the maximum recommended dose for B6 in the long term is 10mg a day).

A deficiency of the mineral selenium may be a little-known cause of depression. Good food sources include garlic, shellfish and mushrooms; or take a tablet or capsule containing 100mcg of selenium daily.


Herbal remedies for depression

Take St John's wort capsules or tablets 3 times a day, with meals, according to the manufacturer's instructions. Opt for a brand standardised for hypericin content (the active ingredient) and give it at least 4 weeks to begin working before you make any judgement about its effectiveness. Because this herb can cause sensitivity to sunlight, try to stay out of the sun as much as possible while you're taking it. (Caution: Always tell your doctor if you're taking St John's wort and before taking any other medicine – it interacts with other drugs.)

Schisandra helps mild to moderate depression as well as countering stress and improving memory. Look for tablets standardised to contain 500mg dried fruit equivalent and take according to manufacturer's instructions.

Ginkgo is best known for stimulating the circulation, but also helps to improve mental alertness. Take tablets or capsules containing a standardised extract of ginkgo flavone glycosides and ginkgolides.

The delightful scent of lemon balm has an uplifting effect on the spirits as well as acting as a mild sedative. Take as a liquid extract (from medical herbalists) or a tea made by steeping 3 teaspoons of the dried leaf in a cup of boiling water.


Foods to deal with depression

If you're on a high-protein diet to lose weight, lack of carbohydrates could be contributing to your miserable mood. Foods like fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains help your brain to make the mood-regulating brain chemical serotonin.

Aim to eat fish 3 times a week or more. Researchers in Finland found that people who ate fish less than once a week had a 31 per cent higher incidence of mild to moderate depression than people who ate fish more often. Fresh tuna, salmon, sardines and trout are top choices; they're rich in omega-3 fatty acids, essential to normal brain function. There's early evidence that they also influence serotonin production.

If you drink coffee or cola, cut back or even give it up. Caffeine, in high enough doses, suppresses serotonin production and has been linked to depression.

Avoid alcohol. While wine, beer or spirits may initially lift your mood, alcohol is actually a depressant.


Thoughts and beliefs to cope with depression

If you think people are laughing at you, look for evidence. Could they be laughing at something else?

Don't try to be perfect. It isn't possible–and you know that. So why worry if someone doesn't like you or if you're not in control and able to deal with every situation?

When something bad happens, don't automatically think the worst (‘I failed the test because I'm stupid’). There are usually many reasons why things go wrong. Look at them objectively and focus on what you can change (‘I'll do better next time if I revise more thoroughly’).

If self-examination does reveal a personal weakness, don't dwell on it. Try to keep the implications from spiralling (‘I'm useless. I can't do anything well’). Recognising that you may be weak in one area doesn't make you a weak person. Instead, that knowledge can help you to identify where best to invest more effort and guide you to your strengths.

Loosen your grip on the controls. Inevitably, things won't always go your way, nor can they be expected to. Accept that the world is not and cannot ever be under your control and strive to be calm in the face of adversity. That way, 2 problems–the upsetting situation and your reaction to it–are whittled down to just one.

Record your feelings on paper–especially painful feelings. Research shows that people who write about their most painful emotions for 20 minutes a day dramatically improved their psychological wellbeing after just 4 days. Sit with a blank piece of paper in front of you and write nonstop about the most distressing event happening in your life at the moment. Don't think; just write.

Visit your doctor. If things don't improve it may be worth visiting your doctor for more advice. The Samaritans also provide an excellent service for when things get too much.