Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Home Remedies" for Depression

Sometimes it doesn't matter where an idea comes from, only whether it has value. Intellectual vanity should not be a factor. Good ideas must not wither in the dark.
From time to time, I come up with a clever pun or joke and feel pretty pleased with myself - until someone "steals" it (i.e., comes up with the same idea independently). There goes my unique invention! I am not amused (anymore).
I am a little less annoyed, ironically enough, when one of my theories about this or that is similarly poached by the collective unconscious, so to speak. Having labored in virtual solitude about so many things, I find it gratifying - not to mention a bit flattering - when someone with an academic post or another kind of visibility has the same idea as mine. Whereas many of my thoughts may have almost no chance of being heard (outside of this blog), other people's work may find a much bigger audience. Almost nowhere is this more important than in the realm of public health.
Case in point this morning was an article in the Guardian. Dr. Steve Ilardi, a psychologist at the University of Kansas, has just written a book called The Depression Cure. He argues that medication to beat the blues is largely ineffective. What works, in his opinion (and mine), are lifestyle changes - that conform with our evolutionary past.
"Our standard of living is better now than ever before, but technological progress comes with a dark underbelly. Human beings were not designed for this poorly nourished, sedentary, indoor, sleep-deprived, socially isolated, frenzied pace of life. So depression continues its relentless march."
 Although I have never suffered from clinical depression - that slough of despond into which no one wants to fall - I have been melancholic, low, blue, and even in despair many, many times. I have always resisted medication, primarily because I knew from my teens that if bad feelings can be triggered by certain environmental factors (darkness, isolation, stress), then they can be similarly alleviated by others. Ilardi is saying basically the same thing. Strangely enough, he cites the very things I have been using myself, and counselling others to use: a good diet, rich in omega-3 fatty acids (for the nerve cells, especially in the brain itself); sufficient sleep; the company of good people; satisfying activities for "flow" and just plain distraction from bad thoughts; and outdoor activity (sunshine, exercise).
Sounds simple, doesn't it? Alas, modern life precludes almost all of it! Processed foods are nutritional deserts. Long work days leave little time for fulfilling hobbies or time with people we love - or want to get to know. And city life removes us from nature: the animal spirits and soothing bath of green we evolved to have around us.

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