A one to one moment. Me to you.
I generally write an article at least twice. I write an article the first time, decide it’s not quite what I want to say and write it again. And I’m always much happier the second time. But this article … I’ve restarted about six times. Each time feeling as though I’m not really getting to the heart of what I want to say about depression.
Because of depression.
It’s a big thing. And it affects a minimum of 10% of the US population, each year.
1 in 10.
Amazing, really, in a really unfortunate way. Because depression isn’t just a bad day or week. It’s not just sadness and disappointment. It’s something much more. And there are so many different kinds of depression. It’s one of those things that, when you’re in the midst of, feels as though it is never. going. to. end.
I don’t take that lightly. I don’t think all depression is genetic, but I also don’t believe it’s all a reaction to food. And not everyone struggling with depression have experienced a major trauma in their life. And what helps one person to come out of depression may not be what works for another.
(trigger warning: mention of suicide)
You’re not depressed because you’ve done something wrong. Or you’re somehow weak. I’ve never met a human being, no matter what they struggle with and carry with them, that I haven’t found to be completely and utterly amazing. Even those who are depressed. I’m not going to give you “quick fixes” because you’re far too unique for that.
I want you to hear me say these things because I want to honor your story and the story of your loved ones that deal with depression. As much as I can here on this blog.
I also want you to know that you are not without power. And there are things you can do, steps you can take, to improve how you feel. Currently, about 9% of the US population actively struggles with depression, with the numbers increasing, steadily. In 2012 the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that the leading cause of disability is depression, with roughly one million suicides worldwide, 30,000 of those in the United States. Women struggle with depressive illnesses 50% more frequently than men, as the leading cause of disease in middle and high-income women (WHO, 2008).
When I think of depression I think of it like a flower (well, truthfully, I think of MOST illnesses this way). A flower is a flower because it’s comprised of many petals. Each playing a vital roll in making a flower the flower that it is. And, like a flower, a disease has many petals that make it what it is. Many factors create the illness of depression. Let’s name a few of these petals.
Contributing factors to depression
Petal 1: Stress
Say you’re stressed. Bad stress (called distress). Your daily grind is too demanding. Or isn’t fulfilling. Or isn’t what you thought it’d be like. Or maybe your boss is overbearing and critical. Or you’re confused about your future. Roll. Identity. Relationships. Even good things can cause stress (called eustress). Too much stress for too long and we start to feel the effects negatively in our bodies and our minds.
What you can do: Identify what stressors are unnecessary. Which ones can you eliminate? What about reduce? For those stressors that can’t be thrown out the window: How can you change your relationship with the stressors to lessen its effect on you?
Petal 2: Food
Last month I wrote about the Food/Mood connection. We specifically talked about serotonin, and how roughly 80-90% of serotonin is produced in the gut! When we’re eating foods that we have allergies, intolerances, autoimmune responses to, or otherwise are not able to nurture us well, the production of serotonin is disrupted and can affect our moods.
What can you do: Keep a food log of the foods you eat and the emotions you experience each day. Keep in mind that the foods you eat can affect you for several days after. So, if you eat an offending food on Monday and are feeling extra upset on Thursday, they could very well be connected.
Petal 3: Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies
So much can be said about how various deficiencies affect our mental health. One of the most commonly known ones, especially for those of us in the northernmost reaches of the northern hemisphere, is vitamin D.
We all know that low vitamin D can lead to the winter blues. Other significant vitamins, minerals, and neurotransmitters: B-vitamin family, magnesium, EFAs, zinc, copper, iron, tryptophan, tyrosine, and glutamine.
What you can do: Focus your eating efforts on foods that will be nourishing to your body. Fruits, Veggies, Grass-fed, organic meats. Stay hydrated with water. Supplement significant deficiencies with herbal/whole food supplements.
Petal 4: Genetics
It is true that if your family struggles with an illness of any kind that you are more likely to struggle with the same or similar issues. But the great thing about genes is that just because you have a gene for something doesn’t mean you HAVE to get it. Whether or not we get an illness is dependent on a lot of factors, some of which are in our control and others are not.
What you can do: Focus on factors you CAN influence. Diet. Relationships. Expressing your thoughts and feelings in life-giving ways. Be active in ways that bring you joy and that work for you.
Petal 5: Thoughts and Feelings
When I was a teen I was taught that depression is anger that we don’t feel the right to feel, so we’ve stuffed it deep down within. As an adult who’s lived some length and as a naturopath that gets the honor and privilege to sit with and journey alongside so many beautiful souls, I can attest to there being a significant stuffed emotional component to depression. Sometimes it’s anger. Others: guilt, shame, grief, trauma, fear, confusion, loss of direction. Often, it’s more than one.
We’re catching up in our understanding that what we think influences how we feel, and how we feel then influences what we do. Stuffed emotions, because of the stress they force the body to cope with, can lead to deficiencies, which then lead to larger chemical imbalances.
What you can do: Identify what thoughts and feelings you’ve stuffed down deep in your body. Maybe it’s all the way down there, hiding in your left pinky toe. That’s okay! It had to go somewhere! Just because we don’t express, doesn’t mean it goes away! Learn to express what you think and how you feel. For some, this means learning to scream out in the woods or into a pillow. For others, it’s learning to cry. Or, maybe sharing thoughts and opinions instead of staying quiet.
In my Naturopathic practice, I get to hold space with people using a Holistic Dialogue technique that’s designed to help people gently explore their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, and how those things influence their health. But I also encourage clients to utilize friends, family, and sometimes even a counselor to support them on their journey as they reconnect with their thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
If you haven’t already found support with friends, family and a counselor that is a good fit for you, I highly recommend enlisting a few of these types to journey with you!
Making even small changes in one our more of these areas is a good, strong step towards wellness. None of us heals completely overnight, but we are all worth the journey! My hope for all of us is that we would always move closer and closer to the healthy, wholly-integrated people we were always meant to be!
If you are looking for more help in overcoming mood issues like depression and anxiety, please check out The Depression Sessions.
Yes, I agree. The “5 petals” analogy is a good one for describing the many facets that depression takes on and the complexity of understanding and treating it. I tend to get depressed based on the weather and lack of sunlight, but I believe my thoughts, genetics, and foods I’m eating at the time can also affect how prone I am to depression at any given time. Your list of 5 is a really good one. Will pass it on to my sister, who also suffers from time to time. Thanks!
Thank you for sharing! There are certainly MORE petals, and the petals can be different for everyone! I hoped to focus on a few of the most common factors for those that struggle and suffer. I hope my post can bring hope, inspiration, and direction to those struggling and looking for a path forward.
In good health,