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!

The Lost Connections by Johann Hari

I mentioned this book in my entry the other day and I really wanted to discuss it more.  Hari is a journalist who openly discusses his own battles with depression and anxiety as a young man.  He, like many of us, was put on anti-depressants.  Like many of us, he found success with anti-depressants, only to find their effectiveness waning.  He goes on to discuss nine different types of depression and anxiety, ways to reconnect and the various social causes of psychological illness.  This book opened my eyes in a lot of ways.  Much of what was said rang completely true.  At the same time, I found myself incredibly angry at some of the arguments Hari makes.

Let me do the angry part first, because I think that made more of an impact, at least in my mind, because it’s more dangerous.

Hari basically argues that anti-depressants are effective only in the short-term, and only then for a placebo effect.  This argument is partially – but only partially – supported by science.  I will say that it really made me do some research and I was dismayed at what I found. The record of anti-depressants in terms of long-term effectiveness is not a positive one.  The link above is actually for a Google search, not a specific article, and I’d encourage you to do your own research.

What’s my problem, then?  Easy: Hari completely dismisses the biological causes of depression, issues that legitimately may require depression to address.  While much research needs to be done on the specific biological components of depression, it is clear that there is a biological component. To dismiss that – and to thus dismiss biologically based treatments – is problematic and pseudo-scientific.  I have real issues with that, and I think that Hari is being disingenuous at best – and dangerous at worst – with this type of advocacy.

But.

Hari makes other, very persuasive arguments – ones that ring true, in my mind.  The one that hit me the most was these: The social element of mental illness.  Hari goes through a series of arguments about how our society is making us sicker: We have lost our connections to each other as we are busier and get more absorbed in our various electronic devices.  We are bombarded by “junk values,” that encourage materialism over intrinsic values and real connection to people.  We live in a sick world – last week’s news from Parkland is a great example – that make us depressed.

This much really made sense to me, and if this advice was taken by all of us, could be transformative.  Society’s obligation to deal with the mentally ill has to do with much more than just treating biological and psychological causes of mental illness – we have to address the social ones as well.

Anyway, is the book worth the read? In my opinion, yeah.  I think you have to read it with an entire shaker of salt, and keep in mind that some of what Hari says isn’t supported by science.  But much of it is, and hopefully, you can read between the lines, find the things that work for you and go from there.