Far from just a “down in the dumps” day or two, depression is a serious illness that affects about 12 million women in America each year. It can cause energy levels to plummet, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, problems with memory and concentration, and feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and negativity.
By The Editors of Prevention
Many different factors can cause depression (it’s usually a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological issues) and there’s rarely a one-size-fits-all treatment. People with severe depression seem to have a brain chemistry that predisposes them to bouts. It’s important to see a doctor if you experience five or more of these depression symptoms for more than 2 weeks: persistent sad, anxious, or empty feelings; loss of interest or pleasure in activities; feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness; insomnia or oversleeping; appetite loss or overeating; fatigue; restlessness; irritability; difficulty concentrating or remembering; or thoughts of death or suicide.
Depression is usually treated with some combination of medications, therapy, and lifestyle changes. Antidepressant drugs are commonly a primary treatment for adults with moderate to severe cases. It can take some trial and error to find the med that works best for you, and can take up to 3 months for the med’s effects to kick in. Research shows that talk therapy helps beat depression too; up to two-thirds of people could recover just as well from therapy alone, skipping drugs entirely. Exercise is also a proven natural remedy–in one study, people with mild to moderate depression who started exercising 3 to 5 times a week improved depressive symptoms like anxiety and insomnia by 47%.
Certain supplements may also help manage depression.
St. John’s Wort: This popular herb has been used to treat depression for centuries. One major review found that it was as effective as standard drugs in many cases, although evidence suggests it’s not as helpful for people who are severely (compared to mildly) depressed. SJW may work by helping to rebalance levels of brain chemicals linked to mood, like dopamine and serotonin. The big warning sign with SJW, though, is that it interacts with many different medications (including some antidepressants), so you should always check with your doctor before you take it.
Omega-3s: Numerous studies have found that heart-healthy fish oil may also benefit your brain and mood. A big study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that omega-3 intake significantly improved depression and certain other psychiatric conditions. Although some study results are mixed, there are many other healthy reasons to eat fish or take a fish oil supplement, and many experts agree it’s a good idea to use it in conjunction with other depression treatments.
SAMe: Short for S-adenosylmethionine, this naturally occurring compound in your body helps boost brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine; low levels of both are implicated in causes of depression. Research shows SAMe is as effective as many antidepressant meds.