An integrative medical approach is one in which a doctor or other health care practitioner aims to combine the best of both conventional and alternative medicine to achieve the best outcome for their patient. It is particularly effective for difficult to treat chronic diseases and this is certainly the case for clinical depression and associated mood disorders.
Depressive illness can be triggered in a number of different ways, e.g.:
- Psychological Trauma or Stress - e.g. financial pressures, breakdown of a marriage/relationship
- Biochemical Imbalance - e.g. as a result of poor nutrition, or simply genetic predisposition
- Existing Chronic Illness - depression is often co-morbid with other conditions e.g. dementia, fibromyalgia
Whatever the cause of depression, the right medical help is essential to overcome this hugely debilitating illness. An integrative approach combining a number of complementary treatments often helps patients recover more quickly and equips them with the tools to avoid relapse. Below are a few common therapies often used together to beat depression.
Numerous medical studies have shown that regular exercise is an effective treatment for "mild to moderate" depression. Even getting out for a walk for 30 minutes every day can significantly reduce symptoms of low mood, lack of concentration, and fatigue. Other beneficial forms of exercise include swimming, cycling, and jogging. In fact, whichever forms of exercise you enjoy are likely to contribute to recovery from depression. The only caveat is not to overdo it, over-exercising can actually be detrimental to health.
Counselling / Psychotherapy
Like mental illness itself, there is often a stigma attached to what is broadly referred to as 'therapy', yet it can be hugely helpful as an aid to overcoming depression. There are many different forms of therapy, simply talking through your issues with an impartial professional may be enough, while techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) provide a more structured approach to help patients regain their self-esteem.
Ideally in an integrative medicine setting anti-depressant medication may be used to provide initial symptom relief, giving depression patients the motivation to use some of the other treatments and lifestyle changes discussed here, before being slowly tapered off again. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac have been the most common anti-depressants since their introduction a few decades ago; they are generally well-tolerated and are non-habit forming. They can however be expensive (particularly if required for extended periods) but American citizens can choose a Canadian pharmacy site to purchase affordable prescription drugs.
Eating a balanced diet that includes a variety of high quality meat/fish, dairy and eggs, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds will provide all the nutrients needed for the body to produce mood-enhancing neurotransmitters including serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. Processed and fried foods are best avoided as they can cause inflammation which has been associated with depression. Specific nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids, serotonin precursor 5-HTP, and vitamin D have all been shown to be beneficial in relieving the symptoms of depression and are widely available as nutritional supplements.
Various practices originating in Eastern cultures have grown hugely in popularity in the West since the mid-1900s; with good reason as it turns out. Mindfulness meditation is once such technique that medical research is now showing to be a highly effective treatment for depression (among other health benefits) if practiced regularly. Mindfulness training involves learning to focus on the present moment, relieving the mind of the burdens of negative emotions brought about by thoughts of events that happened in the past or those we might think could cause us distress in the future.
Integrative medicine offers the best of both worlds when it comes to treating difficult chronic conditions like depression. Conventional approaches to depression including anti-depressant drugs and psychotherapy still provide the backbone of most treatment but it's clear that alternative approaches such as those described can play a major role in recovery, with many having been proven safe and effective by medical science.