see also Post-Natal Depression, Adolescent Depression
A small word that describes a huge range of negative thoughts and feelings from sadness to utter hopelessness, and an equally broad spectrum of physical symptoms. If the cause is a specific external event such as bereavement, depression is usually temporary, it has a natural time span, and after a while life regains its interest and colour. Depression can also follow childbirth (see Post-Natal Depression). It can also occur after Glandular Fever and other viral infections (see Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), or be brought on by changes in body chemistry produced by addiction to drugs or alcohol. Occasionally it is a symptom of developing
Schizophrenia. But far more often it is the mind which manufactures causes for depression, in the form of rather fixed, life-denying attitudes and beliefs which lead to fear, anger, guilt, frustration, a sense of persecution, loneliness, hopelessness... These then affect the body, which in turn affects the mind, and so the vicious circle is established. One person in twenty-five feels depressed enough to seek professional help at some point in his or her life, and on average twice as many women seek help as men. Depression is not something to be ashamed of; it is a recognised illness.
Depression is diagnosed when a person has been feeling down for a significant length of time, for months rather than weeks, and when some of the following symptoms are also present a significant increase or decrease in appetite or weight, excessive sleep or an inability to sleep, a marked slowing down of movement and thinking, a marked lack of energy, inability to concentrate or make decisions, general loss of interest in activities once considered enjoyable, recurrent thoughts of death or suicide. If several of these symptoms are present, don’t delay in seeking professional help. Severe or prolonged depression yields more surely to professional help than to self-help or help from friends or relatives; the sufferer (and to some extent those around him or her) is too locked inside the depression to be objective about it.
It is not true that people who talk of suicide do not attempt suicide; they can and do. If you feel that life is no longer worth living, and start thinking about suicide and the methods you are going to use, call the Samaritans or your doctor immediately. You need help, fast.
The symptoms described above are one aspect of a form of depression called manic depression, in which mood alternates between depression and mania. In manic phases the person is reckless and impulsive highly energetic, even euphoric.
If your medical doctor diagnoses mild depression, he or she will probably prescribe antidepressants or refer you to a psychotherapist. Antidepressants do not cure depression; they merely relieve distressing symptoms until the underlying causes resolve themselves. There is some evidence that in students taking anti-depressants the maths ability decreases by 15 to 20 per cent. If depression is severe you will be referred to a psychiatrist again. The options are antidepressants and psychotherapy, and in extreme cases ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) which requires a stay in hospital, and perhaps occupational therapy to re-establish a normal pattern of life. You should think long and hard before agreeing to ECT as it can impair long-term memory and its effects may not be permanent. Where there is a marked chemical component to depression a change in diet may be recommended (excess Vitamin D, zinc copper and lead are known to contribute to depression).
Both chronic and acute depression will respond to constitutional treatment from an experienced homeopath, but if you, or a friend or a relative, feel suicidal call the Samaritans or your doctor immediately.
Specific remedy to be taken 3 times daily for up to 14 days during episodes of mild or moderate depression or while waiting for constitutional treatment
- Person restless, chilly, exhausted, obsessively neat and tidy Arsenicum 6c
- Feeling chilly, suffering from wind, on edge, oversensitive to noise, light and other stimuli, racing thoughts get in the way of sleep, vivid dreams leave you exhausted on waking China 6c
- Lack of energy and stamina after viral illness such as flu or glandular fever Cadmium phos. 6c
- Feeling totally worthless, suicidal, disgusted witch oneself Aurum 6c (if suicidal also phone the Samaritans or your doctor)
- Depression follows deep grief or heartbreak after a love affair Ignatia 6c
- Bottling up emotions, rejecting sympathy because it embarrasses you and makes you want to break down and cry, wanting to hide away Natrum mur. 6c
- Bursting into tears at the slightest provocation, wanting a lot of reassurance and attention Pulsatilla 6c
- Extremely irritable, finding fault with everyone around you Nux 6c
- Feeling irritable, tearful, chilly, very turned off even by the idea of sex Sepia 6c
Self-help: Making minor changes in lifestyle can often relieve mild depression. If you feel under too much pressure, give up one or two activities that are not essential. If you feel isolated or out of touch, try to get out more or take up a new interest so that you meet other people. If you have children, organise a baby sitter so that you can have at least one night a week to yourself.
Make sure your diet does not include excessive amounts of Vitamin D, zinc, copper, or lead, and avoid tea and coffee. In some women, oral contraceptives seem to contribute to depression; the obvious course is to discuss alternatives with your medical doctor. Increase your intake of Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and C, folic acid (folate), biotin, bioflavonoids, calcium, potassium, and magnesium.