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Finding A Way Through Depression

by Joan-Marie Lartin

Depression is tricky; it can sneak up on a person and become the new normal. Often, subtle manifestations of depression make it difficult to see it unless or until it becomes severe. There is some evidence that depression is inherited, but most experts agree that there is a much stronger situational factor. Serious loss such as a death, divorce or a miscarriage can morph into chronic depression. An abusive boss, shift work, ongoing pain, a serious head injury and other situations that seem beyond a person’s control can also result in depression.

Signs of depression include low energy, difficulty starting or completing everyday tasks, irritability, criticism of self and others, low self-worth, excessive substance intake, shopping, eating, sexual activity and a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Depression in males is often denied, masked and manifested in reckless behavior such as aggression toward others, especially family members, and substance abuse is common.

Current research has clarified the negative impact of long-term chronic stress on serotonin levels. Low serotonin levels are associated with irritability, headaches, carbohydrate or sugar cravings, low libido, fuzzy thinking, insomnia and depression. These low levels both reflect and add to a depressed state. Antidepressant medications cannot work well or at all when serotonin levels dip below certain levels.

Serotonin levels can be increased by using a precursor that the body uses to make serotonin such as amino acid therapy, much like the body uses iron supplements to increase the amount of red blood cells when needed. The amino acid L-tryptophan can raise serotonin levels. Eating foods that contain L-tryptophan such as beans, lentils, animal proteins, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, nuts, spinach and dark green leafy vegetables may help raise serotonin levels naturally.

In addition to exploring the advantages of nutritional and dietary changes, lifestyle changes may be useful in treating depression. Focus on daily self-care by practicing basic hygiene, eating healthy food, exercising and sleeping for eight to 10 hours.

Personal and social isolation may make things worse. Reaching out to a loved one offers a connection from the destructive effects of isolation. Depression usually feels overwhelming, and it is rare to bounce back alone. Many online communities provide help, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Find a therapist knowledgeable and experienced in working with people with depression. Knowing when to get help is a strength more than a weakness. Take one small step a day. As musician Joan Baez says, “Action is the antidote to despair.”

Joan-Marie Lartin, Ph.D., RN, is a psychotherapist in Carlisle and Gettysburg who provides clients with access to neurotransmitter testing and amino acid therapy, as well as therapy and neurofeedback training. For more information, call 717-961-0088.