Depression, it’s become another modern day epidemic.
According to the WHO, the World Health Organisation:
- Depression is a common mental disorder. Globally, more than 300 million people of all ages suffer from depression
- Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease
- More women are affected by depression than men
- At its worst, depression can lead to suicide
That’s a sad reality.
I heard a statistic that shocked me this morning.
In 2016, there were 44,965 suicides in the United States of America, and that figure is likely low, due to under-reporting. Can you visualise in your mind’s eye what 45 thousand people looks like, if they all stood in a big field in one place? Yikes. Suicide rates per 100,000 of population are slightly lower in the UK, but we still saw over 5,800 suicides in the same time period.
It makes me wonder what is going wrong in our modern society that so many people take their own lives, living in such rich, abundant societies. In wealthy nations such as the US and the UK, we supposedly ‘have it all’ in wealth, healthcare, standard of living, yet so many people are so unhappy that their paths lead to suicide. I think about this too much, and it leads me to tears, as a father and as a citizen, it’s such a sad fact of our modern lives.
It makes me think ‘clearly wealth and possessions don’t automatically mean happiness’. I mean, in the US and the UK we have so much that folks in poorer countries do not…
- Social and political freedoms
- We have the best modern healthcare
- Never-before-seen-in-human-history low infant mortality
- Ubiquitous public sanitation
- Clean drinking water for all
- Electricity and heating for every home
- State healthcare
- Welfare systems
- Flushing toilets
Billions of humans live in other countries without these luxuries, we should all be counting our blessings every day!
But I meet people every day who are miserable, unhappy, complaining of anxiety and depression. They have warm comfortable homes, modern cars, every comfort and luxury. Their biggest worry is where to take their annual holiday, which episode of some TV series to watch, or which take-away pizza toppings to order. Clearly, depression is not caused by the difficulty of our life circumstances, or at least it’s not that alone.
Which begs the question, and yes I know I am massively over-simplifying things here (come on, it’s a short blog post, not a PhD thesis), if people in rich countries who have freedom and every luxury can be depressed, while people in poor countries with few possessions or luxuries can be happy, then what is causing much of the depression in our society?
Of course, such a huge discussion is beyond the scope of this blog post, and there are many varied causes behind depression. Trauma, abuse, psychological harm, biochemical imbalances, a myriad of social and psychological factors, and while I am unqualified and unskilled in this area, I am sure no two cases are ever the same, and everyone is different.
But I do have some personal experience, having been through depression myself at one time in my life; and I have some knowledge through studies and experiences of how lifestyle and dietary factors can exacerbate some cases of depression, or help alleviate them.
I’m not saying any quack nonsense about “Just cheer up and eat some broccoli and you’ll be fine!” I think we all know it’s a bit more complicated than that…and as I wrote above, there are doubtless no two cases of depression that are the same, with no two same causes and no two same cures.
But there are some things you can do to help ensure that biologically, your brain is working optimally.
- You can get more sleep. Sleep deprivation is a well known contributing causal factor in many brain disorders, including anxiety and depression. Sitting up til 3am watching TV, checking Facebook on your phone at four in the morning, shift work and chronic long-term sleep deprivation are all no-no’s, and these are factors you can control. Get to bed soon after 10pm, make sure your bedroom is cool, properly dark, well ventilated (clean behind wardrobes to remove mould and excess dust), and leave the electronic devices downstairs - bed is for sleep, love making and reading a book, nothing else.
- Get more sunshine. It’s a fact that around 70% or so of the UK population are somewhat deficient in vitamin D. The best way to get optimal vitamin D is to expose your skin to the sun, so with most folks working indoors these days, and given our grey weather much of the year, vitamin D can be a real challenge! Whenever you can, get outside and get some skin on show. Eat plenty of oily fish, eggs and liver. Consider having your vitamin D tested and maybe taking a supplement for the winter half of the year.
- Improve your diet. While it remains scientifically unproven at this point in time, I feel sure that in the future studies will show that diet has more of an impact on mental health than we currently credit it for. Don’t wait, improve your diet now:
- Zinc plays many relevant roles in brain health, including helping with libido, stress coping, dopamine production, depression and more. Eat plenty of fresh oily fish, shellfish, free-range eggs and nuts to keep zinc high in your diet.
- Magnesium has been shown to have links to anxiety, learning ability, confusion, irritability and insomnia. Keep magnesium high by eating lots of fresh leafy greens, fish, nuts and seeds.
- Don’t starve, and avoid the fad diets. Studies suggest that severe calorie restriction can exacerbate anxiety and stress.
- Your brain is made of mostly fat and water, so ensure you nourish it well by keeping both high in your diet - good fats from oily fish, organ meats, free-range eggs, avocado, grass-fed butter, olive oil and nuts are all good, plus stay well hydrated which helps combat fatigue in many ways.
- Exercise is a proven way to combat stress, anxiety and depression. Establish a daily habit of taking some exercise, keep it varied and fun, try to find a participation sport you enjoy. Regular movement and exercise has also been proven to help reduce and slow dementia in the elderly.
- Practice mindfulness and meditation, work over time to develop an ‘attitude of gratitude’ and always try to see all the good in your life - focus on the good, not the challenges.
Maybe you noticed, that all these tips are already encapsulated in the 12 Core Principles of Mother Nature’s Diet, a healthy lifestyle that’s good for both your mind and your body.
I can’t promise you that a jog round the block and a plate full of broccoli will cure anything, including depression, but Mother Nature’s Diet is all about teaching preventive medicine, and living this way can ensure your brain is functioning as well as possible biologically, to help you cope with everything life throws at you, the good and the bad.
Let’s help spread the word to as many people as possible.
To your good health!