Here in Portland and the Pacific Northwest, many people feel less energetic during the long rainy season. For others, the low mood hangs on no matter what, and it can affect everyday life. When this happens the deeper issue could be depression: a highly treatable condition.
Depression is one of the most common mental health issues in our society. There are various theories as to its causes, but a general agreement as to its symptoms. Depression is more than just a blue mood, though that’s usually part of it. Other symptoms include insomnia or sleeping too much, decreased appetite or overeating, lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities, thoughts of self- harm or suicide, moving slowly, being restless, and poor concentration. Many of these symptoms could also have other causes such as anemia, an infection, thyroid disorders, or general insomnia; so it is important to be evaluated if these symptoms last longer than a week. Any thoughts of suicide or self-harm should also be evaluated immediately.
Once depression is diagnosed there are several treatment options. Talk therapy with a counselor or psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be as effective as medication. This type of therapy is not usually longterm, and has the additional benefit of decreasing the chance of a relapse of depression. A second option is prescription antidepressants.
A third, and less well know option, involves the use of neurotransmitter precursors to support the body’s own ability to produce the “feel good” neurotransmitters. This is a natural alternative to pharmaceutical antidepressants, and can be determined through testing for neurotransmitter levels as well as by specific questionnaires that can help point to the nutrient support needed.
There are many treatments and nutritional options that can act as natural antidepressants. Research has also shown that getting outside and moving briskly for at least 30 minutes per day significantly decreases depression symptoms. Getting adequate sleep is important. If insomnia is an issue good sleep hygiene and the short term use of sleep aids may be needed to help reset the sleep cycle. Many people find a SAD (Season Affective Disorder) light helpful: this is a light that mimics the sunlight of longer days, helping those whose mood is affected by the long hours of winter darkness.
Adequate nutrition is an important part of recovery. Protein, nutritious fats and vegetables stabilize blood sugar while providing nutrients needed for the manufacture of neurotransmitters. Adequate levels of B vitamins and vitamin D are important for mood and energy, so a supplement may be helpful.
Depression is not a sign of weakness; it is a physical condition with behavioral and emotional symptoms. Therefore, it is important to seek treatment from a medical and/or mental health professional to recover without prolonged suffering.
Dr. Ellen Sauter is a naturopath practicing general family medicine at The Benchmark Clinic in NW Portland. She treats patients on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and can be reached at 503-223-7067.