Depression affects many people
With new health regulations going into place around the country, a new epidemic has been discovered.
I screen every one of my new patients for one thing: Depression.
It can be difficult to spot. The major symptoms of depression—things like fatigue and blue moods—are easy to miss or misattribute to other causes.
Often times—because of a lack of information or simply the attached stigma—people don’t recognize they’re depressed.
Instead, most people assume they’re stressed. In our work-focused lives, stress is much more acceptable than depression.
So I use two methods to find depression: A mental assessment and a mood questionnaire.
And what I’ve found is alarming.
95% of my patients test positive for depression.
That’s a huge number. That’s not an epidemic—that’s a full-on health crisis.
Now, the screening I’ve always used is subjective. Depression often presents with a lack of excitement, an ability to find joy in life.
It also can cause weight fluctuations—either up or down. However, all these markers—especially self-reported mood markers—are imprecise.
That’s why I’m excited that there’s a new way to screen for depression. One that helps remove the stigma.
And, thankfully, now there are many ways to successfully treat depression. And in almost all cases, you don’t need drugs at all.
Indeed—drugs are always my last resort.
So let’s see how we can, now, objectively ferret out depression where it lives. And what you can do about it, if you or a loved one has it.
It’s In The Blood
As I just mentioned, depression can be very difficult to diagnose. Because symptoms are so vague, they can easily be mistaken for something else.
Likewise, something else may be causing you to present as depressed.
Regardless, left untreated, even a minor case of depression can easily become something worse. That’s why it’s so important to spot depression at the earliest possible stage.
In 2013, a blood test that looks for biological markers of the disease was invented. It’s called the MDDScore, and it’s starting to go into widespread use.
This is extremely important. Not only does it spot depression at an early stage—and eliminate many misdiagnoses—but it also takes away the stigma of this mental illness.
Depression isn’t a weakness. It’s an imbalance in your brain chemistry. It certainly isn’t your fault.
Luckily, as we improve our knowledge of what depression is and what causes it, we’re coming up with better and better ways to treat it.
Four Ways To Treat Depression
If, after a screening—blood, or otherwise—you come up positive for depression, there are numerous ways to treat this illness.
Exercise. There truly is no better medicine for the body than exercise. In this case, exercise releases all sorts of positive hormones—like dopamine and serotonin.
Since depression is most often caused by a lack of dopamine or serotonin, exercise alone can sometimes right the ship. In many cases, it really is that simple.
Improve Your Nutrition. Some of the markers for depression—like fatigue—can easily be caused by a poor diet.
Some of this has to do with our metabolism. But some can also cause hormonal imbalances.
If you’re suffering from fatigue, try cutting carbohydrates out of your diet. The American diet has way too many carbs in it—and these cause sugar spikes that can leave you feeling lower once the spike recedes.
Try changing to veggies, fruits, and protein-rich food. Don’t worry—those foods contain more than enough carbohydrates to give you all you need.
And again, switching to a healthier diet will often help raise your spirits.
Take Amino Acids. If the first two steps don’t work, you may have a more persistent imbalance to work out.
Often times, you aren’t getting the right nutrients to create the necessary amounts of positive neurotransmitters. In that case, you should take amino acids to aid you in restoring balance.
Many amino acids are precursors to happy neurotransmitters. For instance, tryptophan turns into serotonin in the body.
It’s easy to see how a shortage—or imbalance—of amino acids can cause shortages of some neurotransmitters. If tests indicate that you’re out of balance, consult with a physician to find a regimen of amino acids that can restore your brain chemistry.
Anti-Depressants. While I try to avoid anti-depressants unless absolutely necessary, they can be useful, especially in the short term.
Sometimes, during an especially acute depressed episode, anti-depressants can be very effective. They can keep us from acting out with an imbalanced brain, and doing harm to ourselves or others.
Likewise, sometimes the brain just needs a little restart to find its footing again, and anti-depressants can act as the perfect shock to the system. A regimen of a month or six weeks can restore balance and drive depression away.
I don’t like anti-depressants as a long-term solution. There are almost always better ways to deal with depression.
But in an emergency, or as a way to restore balance, they are a very helpful tool. Of course, never take them without first consulting with your physician.
The important thing to remember is this: Depression is surprisingly prevalent in our modern world. It isn’t a failing—it is, instead, a matter of brain chemistry.
Almost all of us will face it at some point in our lives. When that day comes, it’s important to see the problem, and address it responsibly.
Ignoring the illness won’t make it go away. Instead, it’s more likely to get worse.
So please, pay attention to your mental health, and the health of those close to you. If you find yourself feeling “stressed” all the time, pay special attention.
It may not be stress at all. And there may be a very simple, easy way to restore balance to your brain chemistry and continue on with your renewed life.
Last Updated: August 16, 2018
Originally Published: November 23, 2015