One of the hardest things about having mental health symptoms is that you feel lost…and stuck.
When I was depressed and anxious, I had no idea what to do or where to turn to for help. It was as if I were frozen.
What people with mental health symptoms usually do is to go to their primary care doc who typically prescribes antidepressants like Prozac or Zoloft. If they are lucky, they might get referred to a psychotherapist.
The therapy/antidepressant combination works for many people.
When it works, this is the way it usually goes. You start medication, see a therapist for a few months and gradually feel better, and get back to life. In some cases, you learn from the experience, and use it as an “opportunity” that creates a deeper and more authentic experience of oneself and the world around you.
But what about everybody else?
After 25 years in mental health as a client, therapist and functional nutrition practitioner, I can tell you that most people who have not recovered fully after being in therapy and trying a variety of medications have no idea where else to look for help!
I believe this is true for two reasons:
1) Mainstream mental health sees therapy and medication as the only “real” ways to address depression, so most docs or therapists will rarely suggest any solutions “outside the box”.
2) If you do your homework and look into integrative treatments, it’s almost impossible to know where to start because there are so many different modalities to choose from.
What really would have helped me back then, was if someone had given some direction on what I could have done to feel better. I wish someone had given me a road map.
And now that’s what I’m going to do for you, give you an integrative mental health treatment road map!
So, here are my Four Essential Pillars for Healing Symptoms that almost every person with mental health symptoms benefit from:
1) See a therapist
If you haven’t seen a therapist, it’s definitely the place to start! Good therapy creates the space for you to feel safe enough to have and understand your feelings (maybe for the first time). With the right therapist, at the right time, it can be such a powerful and life-altering experience.
Through this process, something important happens…your symptoms can start to shift…and often you begin to become unstuck, and little by little you feel better!
For the record, if your problem is largely driven by unaddressed physical issues (it might be and you may not even know it), therapy will likely be helpful, but it won’t likely be the “key” that turns your depression around. If this is you, just keep reading and I’m pretty sure you will not be disappointed!
I tell people that looking for a therapist is like dating.
You have to meet a lot of people before you find the one that you “click” with. It took me 5-6 mismatches before I found my guide.
Unfortunately, unless you have the right “connection,” the power of therapy just won’t happen.
So take your time in choosing a therapist.
Get a few referrals from people you trust. Don’t be afraid to ask the therapist questions and trust your “gut” about how you feel sitting in session with them.
Remember that without safety and connection, there is no therapy.
Part of the power of therapy is the therapist teaching you life skills, but often, healing comes from being in this “new” relationship, as you learn to see and experience yourself differently. It sounds a bit esoteric but when you feel it, it’s very “real”.
If you are interested in an integrative approach, find a therapist open to holistic treatment. This can sometimes be hard because many therapists are still very much connected to a medical model. But, if you are persistent you can find an integrative psychotherapist–one who gets it!
2) Get moving
Research has shown that regular aerobic exercise can be at least as potent an antidepressant as Prozac.
In one 1999 study from Duke University, researchers found that after 16 weeks, patients who exercised showed statistically significant and comparable improvements relative to those who took antidepressants or those who took antidepressants and exercised.
A follow up study looked at these same patients 6 months later and found that patients who continued exercising were much less likely to see their depression return when compared to the other two groups. Only 8 percent of subjects in the exercise group saw their depression return, while 38 percent of the antidepressant group and 31 percent of the exercise-plus-drug group relapsed.
Here’s my suggestion: Find some movement that allows you to get your heart rate up for a half hour daily at least 4 days a week. If it’s something you like to do, you’ll be more inclined to do it every day.
3) Discover Yoga
There are many kinds of yoga out there, but I am biased towards the gentle and heart centered practice of Hatha Yoga, because it’s what I practice and teach.
It offers moment-to-moment opportunities to understand how you work internally and offers so many tools designed to help unwind stuck emotional patterns (which is the hallmark of depression). I think any depression treatment plan would be severely limited without it.
According to Steven Cope, psychotherapist and author of Yoga and the Quest for True Self, Hatha Yoga’s postures improve mood by moving energy in the parts of the body where feelings are “stuck”. He states that “Hatha Yoga is an accessible form of self-soothing” which allows “blocked feelings to be released very quickly, creating a regular, systematic feeling of well-being.”
Yoga practice was definitely a huge part of my recovery from a depressive episode about 10 years back. It was through the conscious movement of yoga that I found myself again.
I’m actually not sure where I’d be without it.
4) Start a mental health diet
Using an anti-inflammatory and low allergenic diet, which focuses on adequate high quality protein, good fats, and lots of organic vegetables, is essential in ensuring recovery from mental health symptoms.
Additionally, specific brain targeted supplements have been identified which are incredibly helpful in easing depressive symptoms. These include amino acids like L-Tryptophan, 5HTP and other brain supportive nutrients such as Zinc and B6 among others. To learn more about the power of amino acids in addressing depression and other mental health symptoms click here.
A book called The Mood Cure by Julia Ross, MA, is an excellent primer in the use of diet and targeted nutrients for depression. Though these nutrients can be amazing, having a skilled practitioner who can walk you through this process can make all the difference in increasing the chances of success with these powerful tools.
The Power of a Program
While each of the modalities described above can really help depression, their healing power increases dramatically when done together.
You might think of this as an “Anti-Depression Program”. The more you do (within reason), the more impact you’ll get.
This “program” is largely based on the work of Dr. Dean Ornish who created one of the first integrative lifestyle programs for heart disease and other chronic health concerns (including depression) more than 40 years ago.
Are You Willing?
Now you have the basic roadmap that I use with all my depressed clients. It is a simple but powerful guide. Once you step in, I’m pretty sure you’ll agree.
My recommendation is to choose one of the modalities discussed above and work with it and see what happens with your depressive symptoms. Once you master one see if you can add another…and another.
Remember that the more you do, the more you’ll get!
Once you experiment, report back to us in the comments section of the blog or on my Facebook page.
In good (mental health),
Dr. Josh Friedman has more than 25 years experience in mental health as a client, psychologist, and functional nutrition practitioner. After working in the field for a few years, he realized how many people were still struggling with depression and other mental health issues even after years of therapy and medication. Over time he became increasingly uncomfortable with the limitations of standard psychiatric treatment and knew there had to be a better way. Over the past decade and a half, he has committed himself to learning as much as he could about the root causes of mental health symptoms. To share this information and to help people get unstuck, he started Alternative Mental Health Solution.