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Plenty has been written about the causes of depression and there is a wealth of self-help books on the shelves of bookstores. Very little seems to have been written from the viewpoint of sufferers; what has worked and what has not. This entry is a personal opinion based on experience about some of the strategies for combatting depression and is written in the hope that others may find some help or hope in it.
So what help is available?
The first thing that one thinks of is usually medication. Sadly this turns out to be a bit of a lottery. Not every drug suits every person and, for some people, it can be a case of trial and error before an effective medication can be found. Depression is a horrible illness and a sufferer naturally wants quick relief; unfortunately the drugs take time to become effective. It's very common to feel discouraged after a week or two because nothing is happening, but the reality is that it can take anything from one to three months for some noticeable relief to take place. Medication takes time and asking for a change of medication too soon is self-defeating.
A Hint about Visits to the Doctor
It has to be remembered that the GP1 only has a limited amount of time for each patient. The patient will probably find the doctor to be quite sympathetic and supportive on the first visit. Unfortunately, depression takes away rational thought and behaviour so that the sufferer can become a regular visitor.
To maximise the time spent at the consultation and minimise the number of visits (too many will wear away at the doctor's sympathy), it is helpful to jot down any symptoms and questions before the visit and take them along. One should avoid a wordy document but aim for just a few words that act as an aid to memory. Memory is something that suffers with depression, so being able to jot down key words that cover the doctor's advice during the consultation is valuable.
There are plenty of therapies and it's possible to get locked into an endless course of (private) therapy. One that seems to be very effective is Cognitive Therapy. The strength of this is that the sufferer is not passive but gradually gets to gain some control over his/her circumstances and insight into the thought process at work. The safest thing for anyone contemplating therapy is to go via the GP.
A new approach to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is now available that utilizes the computer. Information about the Beating the Blues programme is available at the Ultrasis Website.
Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn has developed a stress reduction programme at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre. Home Page is also an effective programme for combating depression. Extensive research has been carried out in the UK (University of North Wales, Bangor) on the efficacy of the programme and it is being introduced into the NHS2.
Briefly, it means a commitment of eight weeks. This entails attending a once-a-week session for two hours and daily homework. The programme combines mindfulness meditation techniques and a cognitive approach. More information is available through Mind.
On this subject the jury is still out, but there are people who have benefited from herbal remedies and swear by St John's Wort. Research has been carried out and it seems to help sufferers with a low intensity depression.
Aromatherapy, Colour Therapy
These do have a minimal effect and are helpful in giving the sufferer something to do rather than be passive.
Good diet is obviously important and some articles promise cures through a change of diet. Unless a sufferer is on a diet of burgers, chips and coke then there's not much to be gained from being overly concerned about diet. A balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables should be aimed for.
One thing that is worth mentioning is the possibility of hypoglycemia. Anyone who finds that they get weak and tremble if they go too long without eating (say about two hours), should consider changing the way that they eat and consume their food little and often. Apart from the weakness etc, hypoglycemia can affect moods.
There are plenty of claims for the effectiveness of vitamin supplements on the web. Some sites advocate a cocktail of vitamin and mineral supplements as a sure-fire cure. Having tried them, the advice from this Researcher is be sceptical. The only supplement that's reputed to be effective is folic acid and only for women.
Not everyone's cup of tea but given time is very effective. It might be helpful to add a few words about the type of meditations that might be useful:
In a nutshell it means closing the eyes and focusing on the sensations of the breath, either at the nostril or in the rising and falling of the stomach. This calms and steadies the mind.
There are many forms of visualising techniques. The simplest is to visualise the breath entering the body as a healing white light; flooding the body and removing any pain or affliction in the form of black smoke that is ejected on the out-breath.
Some people find mantra recitation helpful. By repeating the Mantra over and over for a period of time the mind becomes still and calm. There are more and more tapes and CDs of mantras available these days. A recitation of about 20 to 30 minutes or more would be beneficial. When choosing a tape or CD the mantra should be easy to understand and continue without interruption. Avoid ones that feature the music rather than the words. This form of meditation is more dynamic than the other types and some find it more cleansing, even energising.
Trying to meditate from a book is not as effective as being guided by a person. For a sample of a guided meditation try visiting this site on Meditation .
Exercise has to be the most productive thing a sufferer can do in the way of self-help. Nobody knows better than this Researcher how difficult it is to get moving let alone exercise but it is a major step forward. Walking briskly so that the arms are swinging helps get the endorphins flowing and the more aerobic the exercise, the better the person feels. It's no magic bullet but as another Researcher said,
Going to the gym does work. I've recently averted a crisis by upping my exercise quota (now between six and eight hours per week - not only am I not depressed, but I'm amazingly fit!)
Joining a gym or fitness centre is valuable for those who can afford it. Aiming for an hour a day or every other day would be extremely beneficial.
Anything that makes the mind focus, such as puzzles, is useful and jig-saw puzzles are surprisingly helpful, especially in a period of anxiety.
Not everyone is religious or has religious convictions but if a person has, then religion can help. Having faith in an agent beyond oneself can be extremely beneficial according to Dr Persaud who has written a book on preventing depression.
Buddhism is an Eastern religion that is becoming more common in the West. Many people turn to Buddhism for answers; some find them and others are disappointed. Buddhism does have the potential to help; anyone following the Mahayana path will know that it is possible to transform the mind. It would take a better qualified person to explain how, but the crux is that everything depends on the mind. Happiness does not exist 'out there' with objects or people but is dependant on the mind. A tranquil mind makes the world a nicer place, a negative mind makes the world a horrible place. A Buddhist's concern is with the happiness of others so any Buddhist should be pleased to answer any queries.
One note of caution: some people embrace Buddhism without thought. It's better to stick to your core religion and just take from Buddhism what helps you. Changing religion can lead to inner conflict later if you have a strong Christian background for instance.
So difficult to practise when your world is nothing but a dark hell but depression does get better eventually.
All that suffering, and for what? It might help to see it as an opportunity to learn and so aid others in the future. Having such a goal changes the perspective of the sufferer and makes the illness more bearable.
The shorter days of winter can have an adverse effect on the mind and mood. Known as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) the condition usually manifests itself around October.
The Researcher sincerely hopes that there is something here that helps ease the suffering for someone or at least sparks a debate about what others found helpful. Any virtue gained by this article is dedicated to the happiness of others and world peace.