Depression Symptoms and Natural Remedies for Depression
January 2nd, 2018
The Thing That Cripples You: Living With Depression Symptoms
Living with depression symptoms can hold you back in every aspect of your life: your work, your relationships, your hobbies, your dreams. It’s like walking around with a anvil sitting on your chest, an anvil that’s no less heavy for the fact that no one can see it. If anything, for a number of friends who I have watched and supported, dealing with depression symptoms, the fact that it’s an invisible disease can make it more isolating and harder to face. When you feel like depression is something that you have to fight on your own, it can swallow you.
That’s why it’s so important not to fight depression on your own. There are many types of treatment available today, natural remedies for depression are a viable alternative to traditional treatments. Sometimes it can be a discouraging process to find the right treatment, especially with a stigma still surrounding a mental illness rather than physical and more visible illness. That’s why today, I want to shed some light on depression and depression symptoms: what depression is, what it isn’t, what are the most common depression symptoms and some natural remedies that can help you with them.
What is Depression? How to Recognize Depression Symptoms.Depression is defined as: “a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness or loss of interest.”¹ It’s made up of depressive episodes that can last for weeks, months, or even years, especially with a lack of treatment. During these episodes, people with depression will experience an overwhelming downward pull in their mood. Some of the depression symptoms that people might experience during a depressive episode include:
- Sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness that lasts for longer than a few weeks
- Tiredness, lack of energy, or loss of interest in things you once enjoyed
- Low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness
- Sleep disturbances (too little or too much sleep)
- Agitation and angry outbursts
- Trouble concentrating
- Thoughts of death or suicide ideation
Despite the stigma that often surrounds depression, it’s incredibly common. Major depressive disorder affects 5% of the world’s population and over 16 million people in the United States alone.2 It can affect anyone, although it most affects women more often than men. Depression is most likely to manifest during young adulthood, between the ages of 18-22 but lasts a lifetime, although it can be managed and the symptoms can be lessened.
Depression: It’s Not Just Feeling Sad
...Or rather, not as the rest of us know it. Sure, depression is described as a “persistent feeling of sadness,” but feeling sad is different from being persistently sad. In my life, I’ve felt great sadness after a breakup, a fight or after the family pet died, but I was far from depressed. Even grief over the loss of a loved one can feel very much like depression but eventually fades even if it never truly disappears.
In fact, I’d say that “feeling depressed” and having depression are two different things. Anyone can have times in their life in which they feel depressed, but for my friends with this major depressive disorder, that’s most of their lives. That’s where the stigma probably comes from. It’s a difficult phenomenon to explain to people who don’t have depression. You can tell someone, “I’m depressed,” and they might think about a dark time in their life and say, “Yeah, we’ve all been there. That doesn’t make you special.” People with depression have a hard time convincing others that what they’re dealing with is a disease, not just a bad mood.
Barbara Kingsolver once said, “Sadness is more or less like a head cold. With patience, it passes. Depression is more like cancer.” Like cancer, it can be overwhelming, debilitating, and yes, even deadly. The American Foundation for Suicide prevention claims that over 50% of people who commit suicide have a major depressive disorder, 75% if you count those with alcoholism and depression.3 In fact, many alcoholics use their habit to self-medicate because of major depressive disorder or other mental illnesses.
Naysayers will often say, “Depression isn’t real. It’s all in your head.” But the fact that depression exists in the mind doesn’t make it any less real or life-threatening. That’s why it’s so important to receive treatment, despite the stigma.
Treatments and Natural Remedies for Depression
For generations, the only resources to treat mental health were asylums, which were not so much focused on healing as containing people with depression. But even after antidepressants and therapy became more prevalent, many people were discouraged from seeking treatment by their family and friends. Sometimes they still are. Strong side-effects from prescription drugs are another cause of people not seeking the help they need, however natural remedies for depression are able to help without causing physical or mental side effects.
An old friend from college struggled to seek out treatment for her depression for years because she had a bad experience with over the counter antidepressant medications. Her antidepressants made her nauseous and irritable. She put on twenty pounds in that brief time that she was on them. Finally, she decided they weren’t working for her and she dropped them. The rebound effect made her feel more depressed than ever. Eventually, she had to be hospitalized, and it was another five years after she left the hospital that she felt up to seeking out treatment again. Sadly the natural remedies for depression are not as commonly known as they should be.
For some with depression, antidepressant medications are very helpful. For others, the side effects can be almost as bad as the disease. Some common side effects can include:
- Weight gain
- Loss of sexual desire
- Dry mouth
- Irritability or agitation
Fortunately, there are more natural options that might even be more effective. Herbs like St. John’s Wort are popular in Europe, though not yet FDA approved in the United States. These herbs boost serotonin and dopamine in much the same way that over the counter antidepressant pills work, boosting happiness and energy levels. However, St. John’s Wort shouldn’t be taken with other pills like blood thinning medication, HIV/AIDS medication, or birth control, and it should never be taken with other antidepressants.
In the US, some patients have started taking dietary supplements as part or all of their depression treatment.
Some of these natural remedies for depression include:
- DHEA. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a steroid hormone, and when there’s a deficiency, it can cause depression. Taking DHEA hormones has been shown to boost do decrease depression. Unfortunately, like many hormone supplements, it can also include negative side effects in the long term. Hair loss, oily skin, high blood pressure, and fatigue can all occur when taking DHEA. It’s often made synthetically with soy and wild yam, but my old college friend said she didn’t notice much of a difference in her depression symptoms when she tried synthetic DHEA.
- 5-HTP. 5-HTP is still experimental at this point, but has been shown to improve serotonin levels. Health experts have linked it to insomnia in some cases and warn that it might not be safe to take in large doses at this point.5
- Omega-3. When my friend told me that she had started taking omega-3 supplements to treat her depression, I can’t say I was surprised. I already knew about the health benefits of omega-3 when it came to muscle and joint pain, heart health, and I had experienced it firsthand with my pregnancies and my family’s health. I had even read a little bit about the benefits of omega-3 fish oil for mental health. It even helps with anxiety, which often goes hand-in-hand with depression.6 And why not? Omega-3 is natural, and it produces the fatty acids EPA and DHA, which have been linked to overall wellness and energy boosts.
That was the case with the first supplements she tried, Vitamin Shoppe. They may have been effective, but because of the fishy aftertaste, she switched over to Nordic Naturals. “It worked,” she admitted. “But it took a long time to kick in, so that was hard.” It’s one of the more expensive brands, too, at $44.16 for a bottle of 120 soft gels. Next, there was Omega XL. She picked up Omega XL after hearing how potent it was, but was a little apprehensive about the aftertaste.
Fortunately, that was nothing to worry about. Omega XL is made from the green-shelled mussel in New Zealand, but extracted in such a way that the supplement has all the nutrients and carbs with none of the fishy taste. I’ve even heard of people with seafood allergies who were able to use Omega XL. This time, my friend noticed a difference.
- Finally, therapy. Even if you choose not to take any supplements or antidepressant medications, therapy can be a big help. Just talking about your feelings and experiences has been found to be cathartic and relieving. Therapists can also offer you help to manage the worst of your symptoms. They can get to the root of the issue and help you to find a way to keep the bad thoughts at bay when they start.
What happened to that old college friend when she finally started to seek treatment again? She started by going to therapy. She made it clear that she wasn’t interested in drugs, but she didn’t want to try to manage her depression on her own anymore. Her therapist specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT operates on the basis that the way we perceive things affects the way we feel which affects the way we act. Her therapist helped her to spot some of her negative thought patterns, and now she’s able to recognize them and remind herself that it’s the depression talking, not truth.
Of course, she still has bad days. There are days when her depression symptoms still overwhelm here, but overall, she’s doing much better than she was before and she feels more at ease with having a variety of additional options to help her through.
There’s no shame in seeking help, especially when you have depression. Whether it’s therapy, over the counter medications, or natural remedies for depression to make your episodes more bearable, you have the right to pursue all the help you need to live the best life you can. Just make informed decisions when you’re searching for the right treatment method to make sure that what you choose helps rather than hurts.
Do you have your own stories or options you’d like to share? Share with us in the comments or on social!
1 Depression (major depressive disorder) - The Mayo Clinic
2 Depression, Mental Health, and the Numbers: Facts, Statistics, and You - Healthline
3 Suicide Facts and Figures - American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
4 Do Antidepressants Cause Depression? - CBS News
5 Is 5-HTP Safe for Regular Use? - Nootriment
6 Fish Oil for Depression? - Andrew Weil, MD