For the more than 17 million Americans who contend with depression lasting two or more weeks during the year, finding a way out of the gloom can be difficult. The number of people affected seems to be growing. According to a 2018 study in Psychological Medicine, depression increased significantly among Americans to 7.3% from 6.6% of the population in the years 2005 to 2015.
That accounts, in part, for why 12.7% of Americans over age 12 took an antidepressant in the past month, according to the American Psychological Association.
Unfortunately, those meds, most often SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), either do not alleviate symptoms or stop working for a third of people taking them. And side effects, from nausea and insomnia to sexual dysfunction and bleeding, lead many folks to abandon the meds even if they are making depressive symptoms more tolerable.
That doesn’t mean that antidepressants should be avoided or abandoned; never stop them abruptly. But it is smart medicine to see what is available in addition to or in place of those meds that might help life become more enjoyable today and tomorrow.
>> Talk therapy: Most folks who take antidepressant meds also get some form of therapy. Only 5% take meds alone. But a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that over a five-year span, both the cost of and results from taking antidepressants versus engaging in talk therapy were the same. Researchers from the University of Michigan and Harvard say that if someone hopes to avoid medication, he or she should try individual and group sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy.
>> Deep breathing: According to a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, the meditative and body-centered practice of Sudarshan Kriya yoga eased symptoms of major depression in folks who, after eight weeks on antidepressants, had gotten no satisfactory relief. The practice involves various breathing techniques, some very slow (two to four breaths a minute) and some very rapid (30 breaths per minute), and chanting “Om” during a very long exhale.
>> Improved nutrition: Chronic consumption of nutrient- poor foods fuels obesity, heart disease and poor mental acuity, which all contribute to depression. Two studies prove the point: researchers published a study in Public Health Nutrition that showed folks who regularly eat fast food are 51% more likely to become depressed than folks who eat little or none. Eating commercial baked goods also promoted depression.
And people with heart disease are more likely to be depressed, with people who are depressed are more likely to have heart disease. That’s according to researchers from the University of Cambridge, in the U.K. The link is inflammation and the environmental risk factors that trigger it, such as a poor diet along with stress and a sedentary lifestyle.
Your smart step is to eliminate all highly processed foods, alcohol, red meats and added sugars from your diet and embrace a plant-centered menu with 100% whole grains, seven to nine servings daily of fresh produce and plenty of water, coffee and tea.
>> Use of anti-inflammatory meds: Data published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry found that NSAIDs, omega-3 fatty acids, statins and minocyclines (an antibiotic) could effectively reduce major depressive symptoms compared with a placebo and are 52% more effective in reducing symptom severity overall. The effects were even greater when one of the anti-inflammatory agents was added to standard antidepressant treatment.
>> Exercise: Endorphin-pumping, stress-dispelling exercise elevates mood — and improves depressive symptoms. And it doesn’t take that much to feel the difference. A study by Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that running for 15 minutes or walking for an hour a day cuts the risk of depression for someone getting no exercise by 26%.
So if you’re dealing with chronic depression, talk to your therapist and/or doctor about adding some alternative approaches to your treatment routine. There’s a lot you can do to make yourself feel better.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chairman of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.