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  • Writer's pictureNicole Iacovoni, LCSW

A New Way to Understand Depression

Depression seems to have become an epidemic. Nearly 15 million Americans are diagnosed with depression each year, and one in seven of those diagnosed are treated with medication. Often times, depression is treated like a disease; one that’s inherited, based on biology, and requires long-term treatment with medications.

But depression is more like a syndrome than a disease, and a diagnosis of depression isn’t a devastating terminal prognosis.

On the contrary, depression can be seen as a guidepost that alerts us of the need to care for ourselves in better ways.

You might be wondering, “What do you mean by depression being like a syndrome”?

Think of it this way. Let’s say you have a painful blister on your foot. The blister could have been caused by a number of different things. Maybe your new shoes created it or your long hike uphill caused it to form. No matter what the cause, the pain you feel is simply your body telling you that something is up and is calling your attention to it. Now there are a variety of ways you can treat the blister too. You could take medication to dull the pain (but all medications come with side effects, which we’ll talk about later). You could put ice on the blister, rub ointment on it, put a band-aid over it, or just leave it alone.

Depression is exactly like the blister on your foot. It’s painful and could develop from many different causes. The diagnosis of depression is just an easy way to describe a set of symptoms, the most common ones being increased sadness, hopelessness, fatigue, loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, feelings of worthlessness, sleep problems, or changes in appetite. Just like in the blister scenario, the expression of these symptoms is your body asking for your attention.

There are numerous ways to treat depression, but before you can treat it effectively, you need to know what’s driving it. If you don’t know what caused the depression in the first place, you’ll only being treating the symptoms rather than treating the syndrome (source of the problem) itself.

I’ve known so many people who feel guilty or ashamed about having a diagnosis of depression, but I see it as a gift and a beautiful invitation from your body to start paying attention to the imbalances in your life. Life is busy and we all tend to put our own self care last on the priority list, but this can lead to nutritional, environmental, emotional, and spiritual imbalances in our lives.

The human body is incredible though. It’s always scanning for potential threats to it’s well-being. Depression is your body sounding the alarms that your life is out of balance and needs re-calibrated. Rather than be angry, upset, or ashamed about having depression, we should all be thanking our bodies for alerting us that it’s time to do something more or better for ourselves.

With depression comes the start of embarking on your own unique journey to redesigning your life in a way that creates balance and true health and wellness. One of the best ways to begin this journey is by working with a trusted therapist who can serve as a guide, providing you with tools and skills you can apply along the way.

Unfortunately, many people choose to medicate depression instead. Kelly Brogan, M.D., author of Integrative Therapies for Depression, refers to medicating depression as “opting out of your own unique journey”. Rather than taking the time to reflect, gain insight and awareness, and make behavioral and lifestyle changes, some people opt for the “quick fix”, but opting out of exploring your own way to wellness comes with consequences.

While medication may alleviate symptoms of depression, it doesn’t treat the cause of the problem. As such, if you stop taking the medication, the symptoms return. This is why vast numbers of people are inappropriately taking antidepressant medication long-term, rather than using medications on a short-term basis as intended. Research has proven that medications can subtly change our biochemistry.

Medications don’t just treat one isolated part of the body either. Any medication you take effects and works on the whole body and mind, but not everything needs to be treated. This is where side effects come in. Once we start experiencing unpleasant side effects, we want those resolved too, which leads to more medications. Before you know it, your weekly pill box is full of medications to take daily and your life is still out of balance.

Kelly Brogan raises some excellent points related to the causes and treatments of depression: “Our health is being outpaced by our lifestyles: we are idle when our bodies want to move, we eat unrecognizable foods, and we expose ourselves to environmental factors that assault our cells (we’re stuck at our desks, behind our computers, staring at our phones). Depression is a gift because it reminds us of something we’ve forgotten; we are living in a way that we are not evolved to live (and our) body is screaming “get back to basics”. As sophisticated organisms, we are born with our bodies expecting to be exposed to certain conditions (sunlight, physical activity, plant based foods) in order for it to function optimally”.

So, why do people often seek medication as the first line of treatment for depression? Our culture plays a huge role in this. We’ve all been raised to believe that if you don’t go to a doctor when you’re not feeling well that you’re being irresponsible with your health.

So when people experience the painful symptoms of depression, the doctor is usually the first person they call. However, doctors only receive pharmaceutical tools and training in medical school and know very little about nutritional, environmental, and biopsychosocial factors that contribute to depression. So, the doctor gives medications because that’s the only tool in their tool bag to give.

This isn’t to say doctors are bad or wrong, but it’s important to know that there are alternative (and arguably better) treatment options for depression. Doctors can and should be used as helpers along your journey to experiencing whole body health, but be sure to work with a doctor who understands depression as a syndrome and not a disease. Work with a doctor, therapist, naturopath, chiropractor, natural medicine practitioner, nutritionist, or other wellness provider who speaks the same language as you and understands the key to effectively treating depression. Effective treatment requires a healing partnership in which you can discuss and explore different ways of creating better life balance.

If someone you love is experiencing depression, please share this post. This might make all the difference by helping them to shift the way they view depression and begin taking the first steps on their journey toward caring for themselves in new and better ways. If we can be of help to you on your journey toward optimal health and well-being, please reach out to us.


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