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I came across an interesting article today, reviewing a book called ‘Listening to Depression’. The premise of the book is to not treat Depression as a problem in your life, but as reaction to problems in your life. The article uses the analogy of a warning light coming on when a plane drifts off course, to let the pilot know to make some changes to get back on course. So the experience of  depression is our brain’s way of letting us know that something is not right.

The analogy of a warning light is good, as it reminds us what to focus on. Sometimes we focus so much on the symptoms of depression, and forget about dealing with the underlying issues. It can be worthwhile to take a step back and stop focusing on the ‘warning light’, and look at what is setting the ‘warning light’ off in the first place.

The article has an exercise you can go through to try and explore what has set off your ‘warning light’, which I’ve copied here so you can try it:

Read the rest of this entry »

You have probably heard of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a popular form of talking therapy. One study found CBT to be as effective as antidepressants to treat depression, with around half the participants showing recovery (around 80% showing recovery if they’re also on antidepressants – if you want to look up the original study, see here).

A new form of CBT is Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which combines CBT with mindfulness, a concept from eastern meditation practice. CBT is concerned with dealing with changing your thoughts, with the idea that if you can replace negative thoughts with realistic thoughts, this will affect your emotions in a positive manner. Mindfulness is intended to complement this by enabling you to become more aware of what is going on in your mind, and with this perspective you are more able to let negative thoughts come and go without them spiralling downwards.

It may sound a bit mystical, but it has potential. If you’re interested to know more, you could check it out on Wikipedia article, or the MBCT website. If you wanted to try out some mindfulness exercises, I found a couple of exercises on google that look ok: The Virtual Mindfullness Center (a variety of different exercises, follow the links), The meditation site (there’s a lot of advertising and links on this one, I’d just stick with the exercises in the main text).

One recent development in the treatment of depression has been online self-help programs. These programs can provide information or self-help exercises, or both. The University of Otago is currently running a study to evaluate some of these programs. If you’re experiencing depression, and you should consider taking part in the study, you would be contributing to a greater understanding of depression and how to deal with it, and you are likely to gain skills and information which could be helpful in managing your mental health.

If you’re interested, check out:

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive way to affect the brains activity, using magnetic fields to generate small amounts of current within the brain. The idea is that brain areas can be activated in this way. It sounds a bit like science fiction, but it’s a reality, as illustrated by a personal account, where a reporter underwent TMS. The researcher was able to temporarily prevent the reporter from speaking (but not singing), using TMS.

This is all interesting, because a version of TMS, ‘Neurostar TMS’ was recently cleared for treatment for depression. At the moment it looks like it’s in early stages, only being available for those who haven’t had ‘satisfactor improvement’ from a year on anti-depressants, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens with this treatment. Presumably this won’t ever replace good self-care, and mentally healthy behaviours, but it might provide some relief to those where other treatments have failed.

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. One of the themes for this week is ‘It’s in your hands’: make good mental health a priority in your life. In accordance with this theme, I’ve put together some tips for making mental health a priority in your life.

  • Sort out things that cause you worry and stress – The less that you have to stress about, the better. If things are stressing you, this will be a strain on your mental health.
    • Money – Consider budgeting, remembering there are services available that can help.
    • Work Demands – Consider talking to your boss about your mental health. Consider taking time off, and having time for yourself. Don’t take on more than you are able.
    • School/University Demands – Make sure you are aware of what is required, and when, don’t leave things for the last minute. Consider reducing your course load.
  • Become aware of what things cause you to feel down, and what things you can do to make yourself feel good again. Consider making a Wellness Action Recovery Plan 
  • See your Doctor – While Medication will not solve all problems, it may play an important role in your recovery.
  • Talk to someone – Whether it’s a therapist, a counsellor, or even a trusted friend, find someone who you feel comfortable talking with. It’s important to have an outlet, to express your feelings. Counselling often is available inexpensively.
  • Make your life healthier – having a healthy lifestyle does wonders for your mental health.
    • Exercise – get involved in some form of exerise that you enjoy. It could be anything, organised sports, walking, running, dancing, anything that you enjoy and gets you moving. For more ideas, see Push Play.
    • Healthy eating – make sure you get a balanced diet, particularly making sure you are eating plenty of protein, and avoiding high energy foods. For more healthy eating information, see ‘Food for Health‘ (a pamphlet put out by the ministry of health).
  • Deal with negativity. negative thoughts & low self esteem
  • Reach out to others, friends and family, meet new people and reconnect with old friends. 
  • Reconnect spiritually – This means different things for different people, for some it may mean going to church, for others it might mean spending time with nature.
  • Take the time to do things you like – Make sure you’re spending some time doing things you want to do, and getting some enjoyment. If you don’t have anything, maybe look at picking up an extra hobby?

You may find some of these may work for you. They may not, but the important thing is to find what works for you, and do it. Your mental health is yours, so make sure you own it.

Relationships can be difficult, especially when we experience depression. Mental Health America has some useful tips for having a relationship while experiencing depression:

  • Share your feelings with others as much as possible.
  • Let your partner know that you still find him or her attractive.
  • Consider couples or family counseling.
  • Keep working toward recovery.

There are also some tips for people in a relationship with someone experiencing depression. To see these, and for further explanation, Click here to read the article.

If you’re in Christchurch, a good place for quality information and resources regarding mental health is the Mental Health and Education Resource Centre (MHERC). MHERC are involved in a variety of education and training activities, importantly they run a free mental health library:

Our free mental health library is open to the public and provides information on all aspects of mental health and mental illness. We have available for loan – books, DVD’s, CD’s, and videos on topics such as depression, bipolar (manic depression), post natal depression, post traumatic stress disorder, personality disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, phobia, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), agoraphobia, ADHD, children’s health, abuse, violence, personal development, personal experience and much more! Pamphlets and articles are also available at no cost.

Their library database can be accessed from their website.

Just published is a new book focusing on helping people deal with a loved one suffering depression. The book is Reviewed in theListener.

In a Times Article Matthew Johnstone talks about how he hid his experience of depression. At age 42 when the former Christchurch man wrote ‘I Had a Black Dog’ book he no longer kept his experience a secret, he tells us. From his book we can then better understand the inner world of his and other depression sufferers. Johnstone tells us this about the writing of the book:

“… in the space of an afternoon I wrote the book you have in your hand. It was the easiest thing I have ever done. It fell out of me like a boulder. It was like putting my lifetime’s experience on to the page.”

The Times has a clever little sideshow of I Had a Black Dog.

The way we act influences the way we feel.  Charlie Brown, the unhappy in love character from the cartoon strip Peanuts, has the odd bad day. Of this he says “I’ve developed a new philosophy… I only dread one day at a time.”

In one well known comic-strip Charlie Brown is demonstrating his “depressed stance” to Lucy. He’s standing with his head bent towards the ground and shoulders slumped. He’s explaining to Lucy that when you are depressed, it makes a difference how you stand. “The worst thing you can do is straighten up and hold your head high because then you’ll start to feel better,” he says as he stands erect, shoulders squared and his head held high. The last frame of the cartoon shows Charlie Brown resuming his “depressed stance” while saying, “If you’re going to get any joy out of being depressed, you’ve got to stand like this.”

Dawn Simulation is a technique used in the treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as winter depression. Typically, the treatment involves timed lights in the bedroom to come on gradually, over a period of 30 minutes to 2 hours, before awakening.

Dawn simulation was developed in the 1980s at Columbia University following a long line of basic laboratory research that showed animals’ circadian rhythms to be exquisitely sensitive to the dim, gradually rising dawn signal at the end of the night.

Have a look at this method and also bright light therapy at the Center for Environmental Therapeutics.

SAD affects people during the winter months. It is caused by a lack of sunlight and is particularly prevalent in countries where winter days are extremely short and winter nights are long. SAD generally develops in adulthood, is more common in women and relatively uncommon in people aged under 20. However some children and teenagers can be affected.

SAD is currently being popularised on the TV show Men in Trees which features an Alaskan policewoman spending part of each day in front of her light box to help combat SADness.

There have also been particular concerns raised in New Zealand recently, about our children not getting enough sunshine and hence developing vitamin D deficiency as well as signs of SAD. This is being caused by children spending too much time indoors, wearing long sleeved “hoodies” outside, and by some parents being overzealous in protecting their children from the damaging effects of the sun.

A range of physical and emotional problems are attributed to SAD, including trouble sleeping, being depressed and anxious, craving sweets and carbohydrates and mood changes. Some sufferers describe the condition as “an energy crisis”. There also seems to be a family link – many people with SAD have a parent or other close relative with the condition

The main response to SAD is increasing the daily intake of light by going outdoors or using artificial means.

SAD was first noted in Scandinavia. It’s been estimated about 20% of Swedes suffer with the problem due to their long, dark winters.

What can I do to help the winter blues?

  • Exercise regularly – including walking outdoors to increase your sun exposure
  • Bring more light into your home – trim back trees, open curtains, install a skylight
  • Sit by windows during the winter to increase sun exposure
  • Eat a nutritious diet and cut back on caffeine, sugar and refined products
  • If you can afford to, take a winter holiday somewhere bright and warm

Supplement your diet with a good multi-mineral including magnesium and multi-vitamin, including the B vitamins. A natural healer is likely to also suggest other supplements and remedies that will be helpful.

December 2019
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