The biggest reason it’s so hard to find a mental health practitioner

We don’t have enough of them.

As I run around in my real job discussing mental health, I consistently come back to this one central truth: The biggest issue in the area of mental health is that we simply do not have enough people to provide care, or who take Medicare or Medicaid. This means that, when you call a psychologist or psychiatrist, the most likely response is, “I’m sorry, but the Doctor is not accepting patients at this time.”

Consider this: According to a 2016 study, the supply of mental health practitioners by 2025 is expected to be 250,000 short. This disturbing trend is occurring despite the fact that rates of mental illness and suicide continue to increase, and increase alarmingly among the youngest members of our society.

Interestingly, the above article notes that a big part for the rise in demand of mental health practitioners has been a lessening of the stigma which surrounds mental health. As more people become more comfortable with seeking treatment, they put a greater strain on the need for mental health providers.

The problem is particularly bad in rural areas, where, according to this 2018 CNN article, “a majority of non-metropolitan counties (65%) do not have a psychiatrist and almost half of non-metropolitan counties (47%) do not have a psychologist.” This shortage contributes to higher rates of mental illness, addiction, and suicide in rural communities. Indeed, it helps explain why rural areas typically have higher suicide rates than their urban counterparts.

So, what can we do about this?

I’d argue the biggest challenge is the need to increase mental health reimbursement rates, which are historically lower for mental health services. These low rates typically steer prospective doctors away from mental health specialties and into more lucrative practice areas like cardiology and oncology. Increasing these rates would help recruit more practitioners.

Additional funding is also needed for recruitment and loan forgiveness programs. Many states – including Pennsylvania – have begun enacting these programs in an effort to increase access.

Private practitioners and hospital systems also need to step up their game when it comes to this area, but according to the article above, the good news is that they are doing just that. I know that both of the major health networks in my area have said they are looking to expand capacity and recruitment when it comes to psychologists and psychiatrists, and they aren’t the only ones

If you are interested in the interaction between mental health and public policy, you really should pay attention to this space. There will be a lot more in this area in teh next few years.

Feeling sad? Maybe get a puppy or a kitten

Alright, alright, I know that my entry earlier in the week was a bit of a bummer. Well, let me qualify that: It could be a bummer on the surface, since it was about my recently deceased dog. But if you look beyond just the words I wrote, you’ll see that the overarching theme of the entry was more than just sadness. I’m obviously heartbroken that Molly is gone, but the point of my entry wasn’t just how sad it was: It was how much joy the dog gave us for ten wonderful years.

Obviously, I’m not the only one who felt that way about their pet, and there’s real science there.

The Anxiety & Depression Association of America calls it “The Pet Effect”:

 It’s also no surprise that 98% of pet owners consider their pet to be a member of the family. Not only are people happier in the presence of animals, they’re also healthier. In a survey of pet owners, 74% of pet owners reported mental health improvements from pet ownership, and 75% of pet owners reported a friend’s or family member’s mental health has improved from pet ownership.

And let’s be clear here – the benefits of pet ownership go beyond one survey and beyond the notion of just feeling good. According to a meta-analysis of 17 studies, pet ownership was associated with major mental health improvements. According to the meta-analysis itself, 15 of the 17 studies reported positive mental health benefits of pet ownership (though 9 actually also reported negative benefits as well).

The study then broke the benefits of pet ownership into broader themes. These included:

  • Providing comfort, emotional support and companionship, as well as mitigating worry and stress. This was particularly true for veterans suffering from PTSD. Pets also provide a role as companions and comforters and were perceived by humans to be replacement family members, and friends capable of listening without judgement.
  • Encouraging physical activity and distracting someone from their negative symptoms. One study went as far as finding that people with pets were more likely to get out of their house for mental health care than those who didn’t have pets. Furthermore, the distraction of a pet was found to help alleviate ruminative symptoms by encouraging humans to stay more in the present.
  • Encouragement of social interaction. Pets encouraged humans to interact more with others and better integrate their humans to the community.
  • Pets provide their humans with a sense of self worth and identity. For many, a pet is another reason to live – its something that you love and care for, and becomes a positive part of who you are.

Pets can create negative symptoms too, of course. They are financial costs (potentially significant ones – also, again, GET PET INSURANCE) and may create a burden in terms of housing.

So, if you’re down, should you get a pet? Well, yeah, maybe. It’s not a cure all. Nothing is a cure all. But if you are ready for the responsibility (and it is a major responsibility, trust me), having a two or four legged companion may ease your suffering and give you joy and love.

Six medically backed treatments for depression – which make absolutely zero sense (part two!)

Earlier in the week, I published part one of this article – six medically backed treatments for depression which make absolutely zero sense. Here’s part two!

Warmth

According to a multiple studies, people suffering from severe depression found relief when their core body temperatures were raised. We’re not talking a fluffy blanket here, either: We’re talking a hardcore warm bath in temperatures reaching 104-degrees Fahrenheit. Incidentally, the more depressed someone was, the more likely they were to find relief, which could offer some hope for people who suffer from treatment-resistant depression.

Another study found that depressed individuals who had their body temperatures raised showed less depressive symptoms than those who had their body temperatures raised, but by a much lower amount. In other words, more heat made someone feel better. And the difference, according to the report’s write-up, was “dramatic” – not a word often used when describing depression treatment!

Does this mean warming up can cure all? No. Of course not. But it does show a promising potential cure, one that needs more study to be truly evaluated. But, there are more cures which are even more effective, such as….

Getting smashed in the head with an electro-magnet (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation)

Allow me to introduce you to Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, one of the goofiest (and potentially more effective) treatments for depression that there is.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a type of therapy used for treatment resistant depression. What is it? Well, here:

In a nutshell, it involves being tapped in the head thousands of times (as many as forty over a ten second period) by an electromagenet. The electromagnet is supposed to wack you in the head in a region which corresponds to your brain’s center for mood control. As a result, your depression is supposed to increase.

Yes, this sounds terrible and painful, but it’s not, at all. I actually had TMS and absolutely noticed an improvement – one that decreased six months later, but is still there. Depending on a variety of factors (your own depression, insurance and availability), it’s a significant commitment. I had about 35 sessions over a seven week period. You sit down, get strapped in (again, not as bad as it sounds) and the tapping begins. The magnet hits you about 40 times over a four second period, then it rests for twelve seconds, and the cycle repeats for twenty minutes. Let me emphasize this: THIS IS NOT PAINFUL. I fell asleep repeatedly and texted my way through the other sessions. It’s kind of annoying and does take a session or two to get used to. It is also a time commitment: While you can miss a day or two, you can’t go on vacation in the middle of the session and expect it to still be effective.

Does it work? Yes. It did for me and I’m not crazy (well, I mean, I am, but that’s besides the point): Studies have found TMS having a success rate as high is 58% in terms of lessening symptoms, while other studies found that as 75% of people who had TMS reported that the benefits lasted for at least over a year.

That being said, if you’re looking for a treatment which smacks you less, allow me to direct you to our final item on this list….

Meditation

Breathe in. Breathe out. Focus on your navel. Feel better.

Really.

Meditation has gained a ton of prominence in recent years, and rightfully so: For as little as ten minutes a day, it’s been shown to reduce stress, lengthen your attention span, reduce memory loss and improve sleep, among many other positive changes.

And that works with depression too? Yep.

The most effective type of meditation for beating depression is mindfulness meditation, which is a specific type of meditation in which you sit still, calm down, and focus your mind on the present moment.

In a recent study of people with mild depression, people who underwent mindfulness meditation showed reduced rates of developing full-blown depression when compared to a control group.

Of course, that’s not all. A massive, systematic review of 18,573 citations on mindfulness meditation  showed that mindfulness meditation was moderately effective in treating pain and anxiety.

How does this work? Probably more than just one way. But, according to Dr. John Denninger of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, Meditation trains the brain to achieve sustained focus, and to return to that focus when negative thinking, emotions, and physical sensations intrude — which happens a lot when you feel stressed and anxious,”

I mean, when you think about this, it makes perfect sense. Meditation can help you calm down, focus your mind and avoid negative thoughts. This isn’t a matter of just sitting still and being chill. Depression changes your way of thinking. Meditation can help make it right again.

Six medically backed treatments for depression – which make absolutely zero sense (part one!)

Depression is, without a doubt, one of the most miserable and common illnesses currently coursing it’s way through the world. And if I have to tell you this, you’re probably one of the lucky ones who has never felt a smothering blanket of pain and sadness squish the life out of you. If that’s the case, congratulations! You are not one of the nearly one in five Americans who are actively suffering from some sort of mental illness.

Depression is widespread and terrible. What’s being done to deal with it? On that front, there’s good news and bad news. With proper treatment, depression can be managed and cured. So, if you are one of the unlucky Americans who suffer from depression, there’s plenty of reason to hope: Therapy and medication can help you recover.

So, does that mean that these are the only options for treatment? Absolutely not.

A friendly reminder: I am a long-time depression sufferer, blogger and writer. So, should you make any changes to your treatment regiment based on the words that you read here? Absolutely not. Hopefully, this article can help you become more aware of a variety of treatments out there. However, do not, under any circumstances, change your medical treatment based on these words. You should never make any treatment changes without talking with a medical professional first. Traditional approaches – such as medication and therapy – unquestionably work – and I know because I take my medication every day.

That being said, there are a lot of ways which can help you fight depression, get healthier and feel better. They may not make sense. They may be counterintuitive. They may make you scratch your head and ask, “What in the world is fish oil?” (See item #2). But, every item mentioned below has serious, medically-backed research which shows that even the most depressed people can find some sort of hope in their own personal hell.

So….

Sunshine

Do you remember being down at some point in your life and someone screaming at you, “Get out of bed and go outside, you’ll feel better!”

They were right.

Depression rates go up in the winter. This is thanks to Seasonal Affective Disorder, which strikes people as a result of a lack of sunlight. It’s also more common as you go further north, as a result of colder temperatures and less sun. Your body’s natural circadian rhythm – your natural clock – gets disrupted when there’s less sun. This makes perfect sense, of course: You see sun, you wake up. You see dark, you sleep. And when that rhythm gets nuked, it can play havoc with your body and your mind.

Additionally, the lack of sun can cause your body’s production of serotonin and melatonin – two chemicals which are linked to a variety of mood disorders, including depression – to go haywire.

But, even if you don’t have SAD (which, not for nothing, is the most perfect acronym of all time), sunshine can help you fight depression. For everything said above about how darkness can cause depression, the inverse is also true: Sunlight can help fight it. Not only does it reset your body’s natural clock back on track and help produce serotonin and melatonin, but it helps stimulate your body’s production of Vitamin D – this, in turn, helps fight depression.

Don’t have the time to go outside? Live in an area made of dark, sad clouds (way to go, Connecticut)? That’s okay: Artificial light can help too. Light boxes (big, shiny boxes which produce a certain type of light) have been shown to be effective in fighting depression.

Fish Oil

Let’s answer this question first: What on Earth is fish oil? Because it sounds…well, it just sounds terrible.

Fish oil can be ingested in two ways: By eating fish, or by taking supplements. The reason it’s so good for you is because it contains Omega-3 fatty acids, and two in particular: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

For years, fish oil has been known to be effective in fighting a variety of ailments, including lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol, increasing heart health and reducing joint pain. But, one of the newly discovered benefits of fish oil? It helps fight depression. There’s no set explanation for how it works, but one theory is that taking fish oil – which is rich in the aforementioned Omega-3s – make it easier for serotonin to get into your cells, thus helping to combat depression.

However it works, there are studies out there which show that it does. A 2008 paper reviewed a series of metanalysis on fish oil and noted that it had a “significant depression effect”, while a 2017 paper found that multiple studies indicated that fish oil is effective in fighting depression.

Like everything in science, more study is needed. But this is real. Numerous papers show that fish oil can help you fight off depression. Of course, it’s not the only effective and goofy thing out there. This leads us to….

Anti Inflammatory Drugs

When you are depressed, your brain gets swollen. You read that right.

In this sense, your brain is like the rest of your body. When you are injured, the injury usually swells up. This is because white blood cells rush to an area to heal it and guard against infection, causing the wound to get bigger.

Depression works in a similar way. According to a study which appeared in JAMA Psychiatry, which found that severe depression can swell your brain by as much as 30%. Now, if this is something which occurs as a symptom of depression, that’s one thing. But the more important question is this: Can inflammation of the brain cause depression?

Yep.

Other studies have found that treatments which increase brain inflammation can cause depressive symptoms like a “loss of appetite, sleep disturbance, loss of pleasure” and more.

So, does that mean that anti-inflammatories can be used to treat depression? Again: Yes. According to a 2016 review of 20 studies, anti-inflammatories improved symptoms of depression. This doesn’t mean that you should run home and start popping Advils, but it does mean that if you’re struggling with depression, you should have a conversation with a medical professional about drugs which reduce inflammation.

But what if fighting depression could be even more simple? As simple as getting warmer?

A new nasal spray for depression

There’s a new anti-depressant treatment now available: Spravato. It’s related to Ketamine, and if it sounds familiar, there’s good reason for it: It’s biologically related to the party drug “Special K.”

Obviously there are major differences. This drug is a nasal spray and actually given in doctors offices – in other words, you won’t be taking this one home and having it in the morning like a standard anti-depressant. That is because, per this Vox article:

….because it can sedate patients and bring on out-of-body experiences, the FDA is only making it available through certified clinics, where patients are to be monitored for at least two hours after taking the drug.

This drug is meant for “treatment-resistant depression” – meaning those who have tried at least two other major depressant treatments and not had their depression ameliorated.

Operators of these clinics – no surprise – were overwhelmingly supportive of the FDA approval. From a USA Today article:

“This is an enormous deal in terms of access to care,” Levine said. “And the degree of advancement can’t be overstated. This is truly the best new option in over 60 years. And more will be coming down the pike.”

Treatment doesn’t work like standard medication. The same USA Today article told the story of Jonathan Herbst, who credited the drug with saving his life:

A financial services manager in Philadelphia, he began ketamine treatments in August – five or six treatments in the first two weeks, then one maintenance treatment every three or four weeks.

Are there side effects? You bet, and they sounds like a very fun time! They include: feeling disconnected from mind and body, dizziness, nausea, sedation, vertigo, decreased feeling or sensitivity, anxiety, lethargy, increased blood pressure, vomiting, and feeling drunk. Additionally:

The FDA warned that esketamine distribution will be tightly controlled due to the potential for abuse, suicidal thoughts and sedation along with possible problems with attention, judgment and thinking.

It’s also worth noting that this drug’s approval did not come without real controversy over its effectiveness. This drug was approved after four clinical trials – three of which lasted only four weeks – and two of those short-term studies “did not meet the pre-specified statistical tests for demonstrating effectiveness.”

What do I think? I honestly have no idea. As usual: I’m not a Doctor. Go talk to your Doctor if you are interested. All I’m trying to do here is update my readers about this new drug. If you have treatment-resistant depression (high five, fellow sad people!), it is certainly worth exploring this option. Just be aware, however, that it’s still a relatively new drug with real side effects and some questions about its effectiveness. At the same time, however, there is clearly enough evidence to warrant its approval by the FDA, and there are absolutely people who credit this drug with making major improvements to their life.

And, as always: If you’ve had any experience with ketamine (good or bad!) or any thoughts to share, please write them in the comments below!

Is it better to see a therapist of your own race, gender or sexual orientation?

A friend of mine posted to Facebook the other day, seeking to see a therapist who was a woman and a person of color, like her. This stirred up the question in my mind: Is that a better outcome for someone?

In thinking about this question, I think the most important guideline here is obvious: It’s all about you. If you are more comfortable seeing someone whose demographics and experience match your own, then that needs to happen (although that can be a challenge). There is little more important to the ability to get real value out of therapy than the strength of the relationship between a patient and their therapist, and if having someone of your race and gender is important to you, than you should certainly do whatever you can to make that happen.

The good news, however, is that research indicates that having a therapist of your race or gender is not a requirement for positive outcomes, as long as you and your therapist are comfortable with any demographic differences.

In 2011, Brigham Young University conducted a meta analysis of studies (thanks to Joe El Caraballo for the catch). The meta analysis found:

  • There was a “moderately strong” preference for a therapist whose race/ethnicity matched the patients and a “tendency” for patients to view therapists of their own race/ethnicity more positively than other therapists.
  • However – and this is arguably more important – in terms of outcomes, the meta analysis found that there was “almost no benefit” when it comes to matching patients with therapists of the same race/ethnicity.

The analysis went on to note the importance of teaching cultural competency for all therapists, ensuring that they are able to appropriately treat patients from all walks of life. That was a theme in a Guardian article on the subject, which noted the importance of that competency. From the article:

Dior Vargas, a 28-year-old Latina mental health activist, recalls a therapist in college – her second one – who she stopped going to after realizing she was “culturally incompetent”.

“She wasn’t aware of how close-knit Latino families are. That they are a part of my decision-making process. My therapist didn’t understand that, she would say: ‘No, you need to stand up to your mother.’ That felt very disrespectful to me. Maybe sometimes you do, but the way she said it made me very defensive.”

The article also noted the challenges of gender from the perspective of an African-American male client and a white female therapist:

With one white female therapist, he says he felt his gender and race made her treat him like a threat that needed to be controlled. “She shut me down when I expressed anger. The response was you need to stop your anger, as opposed to “let’s work with that and figure out why you are angry,” which would have been a healthier therapeutic response, he says.

I think these two examples really cut to the heart of the issue. A “mirror match” isn’t necessary. Cultural competency and sensitivity is.

On a personal level, that’s been my experience. I’ve seen three therapists in my life who have really, truly made a positive difference, and all three were men. My counselor in college was gay, my first psychologist was a straight white Jewish male (so basically me), and my current psychologist is a straight Venezuelan immigrant. While these were characteristics which I obviously noticed, it’s never something that I felt made an impact in my therapeutic experience. That’s because they all understood my background.

In retrospect, I suppose that the Jewish therapist did understand some things about my upbringing and culture which would have been impossible for another therapist to truly understand, having not lived with it, but I never felt like this was a barrier. When I would explain things to them, they would fold that information into further conversations. They never judged, never questioned and never made me feel like I was wrong for feeling a certain way. While my upbringing wasn’t their experience, they never used their own experiences to color mine in a negative way.

As always, I’d love to hear what you have to say – what has been your experiences in this area? Positive? Negative? Let us know in the comments below!

What is ASMR, and can it help with depression and anxiety?

If you’ve been on the internet long enough, odds are good you’ve heard of or seen ASMR videos. I’ve found them to be a nice, relaxing break, one capable of helping you unwind at the end of the day, similar to relaxing meditation. But, can they help with depression or anxiety? It certainly appears that way.

First, for the uninitiated, let me answer this question: What is ASMR? It stands for “autonomous sensory meridian response.” Per the Google definition, which is pretty accurate as far as I am concerned:

a feeling of well-being combined with a tingling sensation in the scalp and down the back of the neck, as experienced by some people in response to a specific gentle stimulus, often a particular sound.

ASMR recently was seen by hundreds of millions of Americans with this Super Bowl commercial from Michelob:

ASMR can be triggered by a variety of things. For some people, there is nothing that works (like my wife, who wants to throw my iPad out the window when I watch these videos). For others, ASMR triggers include gentle sounds (like tapping or whispering) or demonstrations.

There are a ton of channels and videos on YouTube which are designed to “trigger” ASMR. It’s become an incredibly popular internet trend, one that thousands (if not millions) use to relax and unwind.

From a mental health perspective, here’s a more interesting question: Can ASMR be used to help fight off depression and anxiety?

Well, yeah. Maybe.

ASMR as a formal, intentional genre of videos is relatively new, having only been around since the early 2010s. However, there has been some research done on the subject, and the answer, so far, is yes. According to a study published in 2015, 80% of participants who viewed ASMR said that the viewing had a positive effect on their mood, while another 69% found that their depression symptoms had been improved. Another study showed that ASMR videos can reduce heart-rate and increase skin conductivity, signs of physical and mental relaxation. There are also a slew of internet reports, like this one, of people who have used ASMR to fight depression.

Just to be insanely clear here: ASMR is not a substitution for therapy or medication. Personally, I think it’s a nice distraction, a good way to unwind and temporarily ease the painful symptoms of depression or anxiety. That being said, it’s not a permanent, formal treatment. But, if you’re stressed and looking to relax a bit, ASMR can be helpful. And, even if you’re not – go enjoy it! Millions of people across the world have found themselves finding relaxation and joy with ASMR. Go search for videos and see if there’s anything there you like.

I baked a cake! It wasn’t too good, I had a ton of fun, and you should do something, too

Behold! Behold! A Schloss Cake!!!

img_4252
The cake I baked: It’s Schlosstastic

What you are looking at is a red velvet hilarity. It took me about four hours to bake and was largely inspired by the Great British Bake-Off. My wife and I have been binging on it lately, and that can only end hilariously.

I’m not a complete noob at baking. I’ve baked some pretty good cookies and brownies, but a CAKE. Man, that’s a whole different level.

And how did it go? Well, poorly. Everyone LOVED the cake. No one liked the icing. Want proof? Here was the cake when I got back from work:

Cake With Icing.jpg

Now, to answer the question which may have popped into your head: Why the hell am I writing about a cake on a blog about depression?

Welp, because it was fun. And engaging, and I mean ALL ENGAGING. And that was really good for me.

Let me explain.

When I was a kid, I remember my Mom telling me that when she was down, she loved to bake. She said it was all engaging and really absorbed her attention. As an adult, I’ve found that she was completely right.

This jives with my efforts to fight depression. I’ve noticed that, the more absorbed I get in an activity, the less time I have to think about depression. Indeed, this is something I’ve written about before: The key role that rumination has in depression. This is something which has a large role in the book The Depression Cure: Fighting rumination means finding an engaging activity to absorb your attention and break the cycle of rumination.

And, let me tell you, when you bake, your attention is absorbed. Or, at least, it better be. Otherwise, your icing may suck…I mean, otherwise, things won’t come out as good. And I have to say, I really enjoyed it. I think there’s a piece of me…a very large piece…which is still a little kid. You want me to play with food AND bake something which could be very tasty? I’m in! Where do I sign up? And yes, there is a sense of pride that goes with baking. It’s kind of fun to know that I made something which is at least a little bit tasty.

Should you bake? Maybe. I mean, if it isn’t for you, don’t – but, if you want to try, I say it’s totally worth it (start with cookies, those are simpler and harder to mess up). But, if you don’t want to bake, do something else. Do something engaging, something that will swallow you whole. Do something fun. Just do something. It’s really important to beat depression.

And, as always, if you have any comments or thoughts, please let us know below!

A review of The Depression Cure and Therapeutic Lifestyle Change: Is beating depression REALLY that simple?

I recently finished The Depression Cure by Dr. Stephen Ilardi. It was…interesting. A unique blend of common sense, historical perspective and medical research, boiled into a six-step process which claims to be able to beat depression. My summary? A lot of merit in here, albiet maybe too simplistic. And I plan on incorporating some of what I learned into my life.

For starters, here’s the crux of the book: Depression is a disease of civilization. Ilardi argues that we’ve seen a rise in depression because of the way we have become civilized and socialized. We don’t get enough exercise, enough sunlight, enough of the right kind of food, enough sleep or enough social connections. We have broken away from the way our bodies and minds have evolved, and as a result, we’ve broken down.

Even more interesting: The book came out in 2009, well before iPhones became hugely ingrained in our lives. During that time, depression and rates of mental illness have only increased.

So what’s the cure? According to Ilardi, we need to do six things:

  • Get at least eight hours sleep.
  • Get more sunshine/natural light – including with a lightbox.
  • Improve our social connections.
  • Stop ruminating.
  • Improve our consumption of certain nutrients, like Omega-3s.
  • Get more exercise.

Ilardi claims that these steps combined – which he describes as Therapeutic Lifestyle Change – can dramatically reduce, if not outright eliminate, depression.

What does the research say? Well, that’s the thing, actually: This stuff isn’t psuedo-science. Each and everyone of the six steps above is backed up by real research which shows that these items can help reduce depression. Heck, I’ve written on many of them long before I read this book, including sleep and rumination.

How about the overall TLC package? TLC’s website provides a link which shows the effectiveness of each of these items individually, although I couldn’t find anything which evaluates the package as a whole. Still, it makes sense that they would work when used together, with the effectiveness of each individual element hopefully reinforcing each other.

My greatest issue? It just seems…too easy. Ilardi argues that, in many cases, sunshine can beat depression. I just cannot imagine it’s that simple. I also know how difficult it can be to do some of these items. When you are severely depressed, you may lose the ability to care for yourself or work towards self improvement. To his credit, Ilardi recognizes this: He breaks down each of these steps into small, easy to swallow, achievable items. He also acknowledges that there can be many causes of depression for which TLC is inadequate, including PTSD, brain damage and other medical changes.

If this is all real, I’d argue it could be a paradigm shift in depression. We wouldn’t need therapy or drugs: We’d need sleep or sunshine. It seems too easy and I’m skeptical. I’m very pro-medication (when necessary), and this book just seems to simplistic at times.

Still.

I’m going to give some of this stuff a shot, starting with the Omega 3 supplements, and I highly recognize you do the same (if you’re doing anything physical, like a lightbox or supplements, you should talk with your doctor first – I did!). At the worst, this stuff is harmless or good for you anyway. At the best…who knows.

If you’ve had any experience with TLC, please let us know in the comments below!

Using creative arts to combat depression

If you follow my Facebook page, you might have noticed that I posted this article the other day. It’s an NPR story about a photographer named Tara Wray who used photography to combat her depression. Said Wray:

“Just forcing myself to get out of my head and using the camera to do that is, in a way, a therapeutic tool. It’s like exercise: You don’t want to do it, you have to make yourself do it, and you feel better after you do.”

According to the story, this effort resulted in Wray launching the Too Tired Project, which bills itself as, “a photo initiative and traveling slideshow series that aims to help those struggling with depression by offering a platform for collective creative expression and community.”

Creative arts have been used to fight depression throughout history; indeed, creative arts and depression are often linked. Many of history’s greatest artists have struggled with their own demons.

So, why is it that creative arts can help people with depression?

Well, I think the quote above is at least a piece of the answer. Engaging into some other hobby – getting into a sense of flow, if you will – can get you out of your head. I firmly believe that escaping yourself is a key part of beating depression. Even if it’s for a little bit, you can trick your brain into thinking you are somewhere else, and when you “return,” things just don’t seem as bad.

Wray also notes that the arts can provide an incredible sense of relief and accomplishment: “When I’ve made what I think is a good picture, I can feel it, and everything else momentarily falls away.”

I’ll add two personal experiences. Redemption started for me during a very down period. I was struggling at work (for those of you who follow Pennsylvania politics, it was 2015 and we were just starting a rather infamous budget impasse which was very stressful). My wife had just started at a new school and she was struggling as well. As a result, I needed an escape. And thus, Redemption was born.

Second is the simple fact that it gives you an alternative perspective that is still within you – one that you can still apply to your normal life. Redemption has a few plot threads going on, but it’s core is a twenty year old named Ash, trying to deal with his inner demons, beat his depression and live his life (and save the world but that’s a whole other story!). The book features a cast of characters who help him cope.

This may be an obvious point but for the purposes of this discussion I have to make it: I wrote all of the characters. They are all my voice, my perspective and my experience. But there was something deeply therapeutic about putting that level of advice and support into another character. It reminded me, in a sense, that all the hope, words and inspiration I need are inside of me to begin with.

Creative arts – writing, drawing, photography, whatever – I think they allow you to expunge and make sense of everything ugly inside of you. They force you to think of a perspective outside of yourself. And in that sense, they can help save you.

If you have any other thoughts or experiences, I’d love to hear them.