Those of us who have gone through any sort of mental health issues, whether minor or major, is bound to have come up against a well-meaning friend or two who will warn us off of the “happy pills”. As with any other anti-science movement, they will recount numerous anecdotal horror stories and list some of the (admittedly concerning) side effects that some people feel when on them. Inevitably, these people wish to demonise anti-depressants and offer alternative suggestions.
What are these alternatives that are supposed to change our thoughts and cure our depression?
Sunshine and Exercise
This is an age old one when Doctors from before the Enlightenment recommended sea air for melancholy. It works on the same principle and is just as unscientific. I can say from personal experience that though sunshine and exercise have both been proven to have clear positive effects on our mood, lifting the spirits and making us more relaxed, whereas it may help feeling a little fed up it is not a cure for depression. Any respite from such critical negative thought processes is temporary at best. I started running during my worst bout of depression two years ago (this month actually) and it gave me a momentary high. By the time I got back, showered and dressed and ready to face the evening again, the endorphins had subsided I was back to square one.
There’s nothing that clean eating can’t cure if you listen to a certain demographic. Part of my new health choice two years ago also included eating less and eating healthier – refusing those desserts that were aggressively pushed at me by my then mother-in-law and eating less (though in some ways my low mood aided that thanks to a loss of appetite). Neither did this cure my depression. Evidence on whether poor diet adversely affects our mood is mixed at best and many pseudo-scientific claims are made. Poor diet can make us ill and that in turn can affect our mood but that is a world away from saying a healthier food lifestyle can cure depression.
Now we are strolling into the realm of “downright offensive” as well as “increasingly dangerous”. Call it what you will, Positive Thinking, The Law of Attraction, Positive Mental Attitude – it is all the same thing and it is one of the worst things you can say to somebody who is depressed. What people who do not understand is that when you do this, you are telling them that they are somehow deficient and they must fight their negative thoughts with positive ones. The mind of a depressive is often a crowded place so trying to crowbar in positive thoughts is going to make it louder and more confused. What they don’t need is to be told they are not thinking positively enough. They are already feeling weak and pathetic and their inability to dispel all their problems with “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” will have an adverse affect and make that depressed person feel worse.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Well done Doctor Moron, we can cure our depression by sleeping more…. which is great when you can get to sleep. I remember my sleep pattern from July – September in 2012. Let me briefly recount a typical night.
23:30 – Go to bed and maybe fall asleep around 00:30
02:00 – Wake up feeling anxious
02:10 – go to toilet
02:15 – doze off
02:30 – wake up again
03:00 – Finally start to feel sleepy again after fidgeting for 30 minutes
05:30 – Wake up, unsure if I had slept much for the couple of hours
06:00 – Get up and go for a run
In September when I hit my worst patch, I was lucky if I fell asleep before 2am and lucky if I slept as late as 6am. It’s a struggle trying to sleep, let alone making sure you get your full 7-8 hours of it when you still have to get up to go to work in the morning.
The only cure for depression, true depression, is a combination of anti-depressants and therapy – you won’t cure a broken leg by forcing a smile so a broken mind can’t be fixed that way either. Anti-depressants stabilise the mood merely so that you can cope with all the stresses and strains that burden you. Going from a state of elation to despair from one day to the next is not fun and that’s the core function of anti-depressant medication.