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.
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.
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?
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?