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    Antidepressants Plus: 6 Surprising Ways to Fight Depression Alongside Medicine

    by Richard C. - October 17 , 2016

    Photo Credit: by Carsten Schertzer
    Photo Credit: by Carsten Schertzer

    We’re lucky to live in an era where depression is not only better understood medically, but also better understood by the general public. Once depression (and mental illness in general) was a taboo subject, poorly diagnosed and treated; now people are more willing to open up about their depression, and thanks to advances in pharmaceuticals and new medical practices, it’s becoming easier to diagnose and treat.

    Antidepressants are a very common and largely successful way of treating and managing depression. Between 1999 and 2012, antidepressant usage in the US went up from 6.8% of the population to 13%, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. However, the Royal College of Psychiatrists estimates that 50 - 65% of people treated with antidepressants will see an improvement, and as we understand more about mental health, the better we can treat it with antidepressants. Simply put, statistically more people are more likely to successfully tackle depression with antidepressants.

    Getting antidepressants right can be a difficult process, with patients often needing to try different drugs and dosages until they find the right course of treatment for them. Though effective and a key part of managing depression, there are other things you can do to help fight the good fight alongside antidepressants.

    Virtual Reality Therapy

    Photo Credit: by  Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, University of Texas at Austin
    Photo Credit: by Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, University of Texas at Austin

    A recent study by University College London used Virtual Reality technology to explore treatments for depression. The study was based on the idea that self-criticism is one of the major impactors of depression, creating vulnerability and making it harder for some sufferers to recover from a depressed state. In the study, the participants wore VR headsets, in which they were looking at a mirror showing their virtual body, and a distressed child. The participants were asked to comfort the child, showing compassion and getting it to calm down.

    Once the child had stopped crying, the roles were then reversed. The participant inhabited the body of the distressed child and heard their own words of comfort back at them. The eight minute study was conducted on 15 patients three times with weekly intervals. The study found that several patients felt that after receiving their own comfort in virtual reality, they would be more compassionate with themselves and less-self critical in their depressed states, making the illness easier to deal with.

    Of course, this is only a study, but it is a powerful proof of concept that can be built upon. There may be some merit in exploring VR as a means of distraction and escape from yourself. VR is still a new technology but there are options available, some expensive, others less so. If you have an Android phone, Google Cardboard is the cheapest and easiest way to try out virtual reality. You can order a ‘viewer’, a headset made from cardboard that you put your phone into. Download the Cardboard app, pop on some headphones and the headset, and disappear into a different world.

    If you’ve never tried VR, it’s understandable that you might be sceptical, but it really is like going to another world. If that sounds like something you might find useful in your fight against depression, it’s definitely worth exploring.

    Vagus Nerve Stimulation

    Photo Credit: by GreenFlames09
    Photo Credit: by GreenFlames09

    The Vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve and is a very important nerve indeed. It’s responsible for controlling your heart, lungs and digestive tract, but like all nerves, it’s linked to your brain, specifically to a part believed to regulate mood. It’s not widely understood why, but studies have shown that electrical stimulation of the Vagus nerve can help alleviate symptoms of depression.

    Developed primarily for treating epilepsy, a pacemaker-type device is installed in the chest, with a wire running up to the neck, where the Vagus nerve is. The device sends out pulses of electricity into the nerve, stimulating it. It’s not totally clear why, but the electrical impulses help relieve the symptoms of depression. Studies into the treatment have been generally positive, but it’s not a quick-fix for depression; it can take up to 9 months for any signs of improvement.

    As this is a surgical procedure, it’s definitely not the first thing one can reach for in the fight against depression, but it is a possibility. You would almost certainly need to continue your normal course of drugs and any other treatments you may be undergoing, but it could be the thing that puts your course on the right, well, course.

    Keep A Gratitude Journal

    Photo Credit: by Rachel Kramer Bussel
    Photo Credit: by Rachel Kramer Bussel

    As we saw through VR therapy, part of the struggle of depression is not allowing or enabling yourself to feel good about yourself. One way to help combat this part of depression is to keep a gratitude journal, which is pretty much what it sounds like: a journal of things you’re grateful for. The entries should be daily, they can be whatever you want, big or small, but what they should be is personal.

    Continually thinking about things in your life that you’re grateful for can slowly help shift your own perception of life and indeed yourself. Keeping a regular journal of definably good things in your life helps give you perspective, and the more you do it, the better life can seem. The more detail you can go into the better; and the deeper your sense of connection to the good things in life will be.

    How you keep your journal is up to you. There are plenty of apps that can do the job for you if you’re always on the go, but writing out your gratitudes in a physical book can be more of a personal experience. Plus it’s fun to get creative and make your journal look nice - bonus!

    Lift The Financial Weight Off Your Shoulders

    Photo Credit: by Tax Credits
    Photo Credit: by Tax Credits

    It’s an unfortunate truth that money makes the world go round. Money doesn’t bring us happiness, but if our financial situation isn’t good, money can bring us a great deal of unhappiness. When our lives are (for better or worse) built on a financial foundation, it’s important that it’s as solid as it can be. When dealing with depression, you want to eliminate as many extra burdens as possible, and money is arguably the biggest of them all.

    If you’re in a strong financial situation, the best advice is to make sure that you stay there. Set up savings accounts and transfer sensible sums across so that, if the worst should happen, you’ll have something of a cushion. If your circumstances are less favorable and you can feel the weight of your money problems weighing down on you, the first thing to do is reach out to someone.

    Personal finance is a personal issue and there is an unfortunate stigma around debt and money struggles, but things will be so much worse if you don’t get help. Tell a family member or a close friend and ask them to help you. By ‘help’ we don’t necessarily mean lending money; what’s more important is getting advice on how to restructure your finances so that they’re not making your life harder than it already is.

    There are various online resources that can help you make more sense of your money. A good place to start is /r/PersonalFinance, part of popular online forum Reddit. There, you can ask specific questions and find advice on how to manage your own financial issues. You should also talk to your bank, as they should be able to help you restructure your finances - ultimately they would rather that you pay your bills than default on them.

    Keep Your Family and Friends Close

    Photo Credit: by japharl
    Photo Credit: by japharl

    Depression is often an extremely isolating experience. Though we now know that depression affects nearly 1/10th of the population, that’s not much comfort when you’re in the depths of it; in fact, it can feel as though no one else could understand what’s happening inside.

    Having a strong network of family and friends around you will make your battle against depression easier. There will be times when you struggle to function normally, when even getting dressed is next to impossible. These are the times when you need people that you can trust and can call upon when things get too difficult.

    The impulse is often to shut yourself away and avoid contact altogether, and if some alone time is what you need, then that’s what you need, but it’s important to maintain a foundation of family and friends to support you if things become too much. Remember, these people love you and want to be there for you; all you have to do is return the favor. If you think that your relationships have deteriorated through neglect, just know that all it takes is a phone call.

    Antidepressants are powerful drugs, but love is powerful medicine of all. Yes, it’s a cliché, but clichés have to begin with the truth. You need the support and help from those closest to you to get through the darker times, and after all, what’s the point of life without love?

    Take Care of Yourself

    Photo Credit: by Fit Approach
    Photo Credit: by Fit Approach

    As you can see, there are many interesting and different ways to try and tackle depression, but the most effective thing you can do in tandem with drug treatment is to take care of your body and well-being. Exercise and healthy diets are proven to help everyone, not just people suffering with depression, feel better about themselves.

    Exercise releases endorphins, making you feel good, but also helps improve your physique, which makes us feel more confident in ourselves. Having fitness goals also gives you something to focus on, something to distract you from your own mind when things get tough. More than anything, it gives you a reason to get out of bed, and anyone with depression will know that that can be the hardest thing in the world some days. Getting out into the fresh air and sunshine also works wonders for your body.

    Eating properly helps you feel better both physically and mentally. The temptation may be to dive into a big tub of ice cream and hope that the tasty flavors will make you feel better, and for a little while, they will. But you have to find a balance between that and living a healthy life, that means eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meats and pulses keeps you fighting fit, and you know you’re going to need all the energy you can get if you’re going to beat this thing.

    Hopefully there will come a day when you don’t need antidepressants, VR therapy or a gratitude journal. Hopefully you will be in a good place where you can manage your illness and live a happy, fulfilling life. You’re going to get there, and if any of these techniques can help you along the way, we’re glad we shared them with you. Find the right course of medication and get your life balance back in order, and there’s nothing to stop you.


    Rich Cooper is a lifestyle and freelance writer creates engaging content to the millennials.


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