Complementary Treatments for Depression

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Phillipa was a sixty-eight-year-old widow who had lost her husband after a lengthy illness three years previously. She was lonely, fearful and desolate. She and her husband had been active politically, they had had lively dinner parties and discussion groups with colleagues, but all that had ceased with his death. She was convinced that she was a burden to her children and friends, so she stayed home by herself. She didn’t feel well, and had to rest often during the day. She had been to several doctors but they didn’t really seem to listen to her complaints, and no explanation was found for her fatigue and weakness. Eventually Phillipa was placed on low doses of an antidepressant that improved her mood somewhat. She got up the energy to visit a massage therapist and an acupuncturist. Both these practitioners seemed much more responsive and interested in her concerns than the doctors had been and, with regular visits, she began to feel better.

There are a number of supportive therapies that may be helpful when you are depressed. Alternative methods can offer many advantages. Most are directed at the whole person, integrating body, mind and spirit, and take advanĀ­tage of the innate healing ability of the body. Some are derived from Eastern religions and spiritual sources. Others are folkloric remedies that have been handed down from ancient times.

In 1990, 34 per cent of people in the United States and Canada used alternate healing. By 1997, the proportion had increased to 50 per cent. In 2001, a UK postal survey found that 42 per cent of respondents had used alternative therapies for mental health problems. The reasons most frequently cited for visiting an alternative healer are fatigue, headaches, insomnia, depression and anxiety.

Dr Candice Pert, a neuroscientist who discovered the opiate receptor in the brain when she was doing research at the US National Institute of Mental Health, has developed a theory that integrates alternative and traditional healing methods and strives to account for the body’s own healing ability. She thinks endokines, chemicals that travel throughout the bloodstream, carry messages about the emotional state of the body to all the cells affected in the body and brain. She believes that messages about the emotions are sent back and forth so adjustments can be made between the various parts of the system. Neurotransmitters and hormones are both types of endokines. When the delicate balance of endokines is upset by the introduction of external chemicals, such as alcohol and cocaine, emotions may be dramatically altered, and it may take a great deal of time and effort to restore that balance. Methods used by natural healers – such as massage, acupuncture, therapeutic touch, meditation, guided imagery and relaxation – probably help to right the balance of the endokine system. Many of these methods are rhythmic, repetitive and sensuous, soothing the person much as good mothering does.