This Friday is World Health Day and the theme this year is depression. Mental health is slowly becoming something that we as a society are getting comfortable talking about – particularly amongst the younger generation. Last summer Princes William and Harry along with the Duchess of Cambridge launched a £1.1 million initiative called Heads Together which united seven mental health charities with the goal of helping those with mental health issues to manage their mental wellbeing as well as providing support to the friends and families of those affected. Last week Heads Together released 10 short film featuring famous faces openly sharing their battles with depression and other mental health issues. Amongst those featured were rapper Professor Green, comedienne Ruby Wax and former England cricketer Freddie Flintoff.
Mental health charity, Mind, state that 1 in 4 in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year and with World Health Day’s focus on depression there is hope that sufferers of depression will feel more comfortable sharing their battles with not only qualified professionals but also colleagues, friends and loved ones. So what exactly is depression?
Practicing GP Dr Alexandra Phelan states, “Depression is a mental health condition characterised by feelings of unhappiness, hopelessness and anxiety.” She explains, “We all have days when we feel a bit down, but depression is when you feel continuously low for weeks and months, rather than a few days. The illness affects people in different ways. Symptoms can include aches and pains, being tired all the time, losing interest in socialising or friends, feeling tearful, losing your appetite and having a low/non-existent libido.”
Dr Phelan was compelled to write an article entitled, “How to beat the blues”. In it she writes that there are still many misconceptions surrounding depression and the fact that many people do not want to admit that they are suffering due to them feeling that they will either be shamed or not taken seriously. Depression is a real illness and can range from mild to severe. Treatments for moderate to severe depression can include being prescribed anti-depression or being refereed to a specialist mental health team for intensive treatment. For mild depression treatment can include talking therapy or simply a lifestyle change which is something Dr Phelan encourages us all to do improve our daily mental health even if we don’t suffer from depression. Do you feel that you could benefit from a lifestyle change? Why not try out a few of these health tips kindly shared with us:
- Eat regularly and never skip breakfast: Skipping or delaying meals can interfere with your moods, energy levels and blood sugar levels leading to depression. Keep blood sugar levels stable by always eating a savoury, protein rich breakfast and eating frequent balanced snacks such as fruit and yogurt or peanut butter on whole grain bread. Eggs are great because they are rich in protein so satisfy and fill you up and nature’s top source of choline. Low levels of choline are associated with depression and increased anxiety.
- Foods to increase: Although a specific anti-depression diet doesn’t exist, your diet should support blood sugar levels and brain function, both of which can influence your moods. The amino acid tryptophan, which is prevalent in dairy products, soy, fish, meats, nuts and seeds, helps your brain use serotonin properly. Eat a whole-foods, plant-based diet with good quality meat and seafood, plenty of leafy greens (such as kale) for B vitamins and folate as well as foods high in omega-3 fatty acids. All B vitamins play a strong role in the nervous system so may have an effect on depression and experts generally recommend getting omega-3s from food whenever possible. Oily, cold-water fishes like salmon are the best sources; a six-ounce piece of grilled wild salmon contains about 3.75 grams. Other good choices: halibut, herring, flax seeds and walnuts anchovies, sardines, and mussels.
- Foods to reduce: Consuming stimulants such as coffee and fizzy drinks can cause or worsen anxiety and although alcohol may seem calming initially, as your body processes it, it can make you feel edgy and low. For improved blood sugar control, limit refined foods, such as white bread, sweets, fizzy drinks and low-fibre cereals e.g. puffed rice but don’t cut too many carbohydrates. Many of us are thinking about our summer holidays so want to lose a few pounds and the temptation is to reduce carbohydrates to speed up weight loss. But carbohydrates don’t just supply energy to your body and brain, they increase the amount of serotonin, a chemical that promotes calmness, in your brain. By all means cut out processed carbohydrates, but make sure you swap them with complex sources, such as whole grains, vegetables and fruits. If you must eat refined carbs, anchor them with protein or fats to reduce the chance of blood sugar imbalances. Think biscuits with a glass of milk, toast with peanut butter not jam.
Shani Shaker (BA (hons), dipION, mBANT, CNHC) is a registered nutritional therapist with a focus on regenerative and functional nutrition, addiction and mental health. Based in London her services include one-to-one coaching, group classes and Skype sessions. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- ‘You are the creator of your emotional feelings, not the victim of them.’ If you experience feelings of self-doubt, hopelessness or depression, understand that they are highlighting a vital lesson for you. Look beyond any unsettling or painful feelings, and you’ll discover the negative inner-dialogue and any misguided thoughts or beliefs that are the root cause of your discomfort. Take time to mindfully manage your negative self-talk and expose any inauthentic core-beliefs that are telling you: ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘I can’t cope’ or ‘I’m unlovable’. These are not the truth! Rejecting these lies is the way to unwavering self-confidence and inner-peace.
- ‘Perfection is an illusion – be the best you can be, not the best in the world.’ Remember that the most valuable experience you’ve gained in life, as well as the successes you’ve enjoyed, have come from first making a few mistakes. So, stop being so hard on yourself and instead treat yourself with compassion and patience, just as you would a valued friend, loved one or child. This practice of self-nurturing begins with letting go of constantly comparing, judging or criticising yourself or others. If you can do this even for just one day, you’ll be amazed how it transforms your positivity and energy.
- ‘What other people think of me is none of my business’ Stop worrying about what other people think about you. Whether this relates to family members, friends, colleagues, or an unknown ’faceless jury’, this harmful habit only serves to give away your power and potential. Seeking validation or positive strokes from others so you can feel great about yourself will never work. You are already enough! Instead of looking externally for reassurance, become your own cheerleader by starting a supportive inner-dialogue with yourself and stopping any negative self-talk in its tracks as soon as it begins. Also, never underestimate the power of making and keeping a small promise to yourself every day. Tiny steps can conquer the steepest of mountains.
David James Lees (BSc Hons, Lic Ac, MBAcC, Pg Dip Counc, GQ Hyp, NLP Master, Master of Taoist Arts & Qigong Master China) is an ordained Taoist Master and a qualified therapist, speaker and broadcaster on emotional wellbeing. He has over 40 years’ international practice experience working in the field of integrative health, and is a ‘Grandfather’ member of the British Acupuncture Council. Contact him at email@example.com.
- Exercise: there’s evidence that taking 20 minutes of exercise a day can help by encouraging the body to release natural endorphins that influence a positive mood. Don’t feel the need to run a marathon, a brisk walk or gentle swim can help.
- Stay in touch: depression can lead sufferers to isolate themselves and lose interest in socialising. However, keeping in touch with friends and family provides a support network that can improve your mood.
- Routine: when you’re down it can be tempting to sleep in the day or stay up late at night, which can give you poor sleep patterns or make you miss meals. Create a routine and try to stick to it.
- Face up to it: sometimes when we’re depressed we avoid situations that are hard or make us anxious. Face up to these fears or you could lose confidence.
Dr Alexandra Phelan is a working NHS GP and Online Doctor with Pharmacy2U. For more information go to www.Pharmacy2U.co.uk
If you are feeling low or depressed, call NHS 111 or see your GP for advice. If you self-harm or feel life isn’t worth living, talk to someone immediately. The Samaritans have a 24-hour hotline (call 116 123). Alternatively you can call NHS 111 or you can present yourself at a medical walk-in centre or A&E.