"It's supposed to be a professional secret, but I'll tell you anyway. We doctors do nothing. We only help and encourage the doctor within."
There is no shortage today of media stories on depression. Newspaper
headlines from this year cover a wide range of issues surrounding
depression: "Herb is Found to Aid Mild Depression," "Researchers Probe
Heart Disease-Depression Link," "Millions of American Teenagers Suffer from
Depression," "A Hidden Epidemic of Male Depression," "Feeling Blue? Check
your Thyroid," "Medicating Kids: A Pacifier for Depression," and of course,
"Prozac Keeps Drug maker Feeling Good After 10 Years." Why this sudden
fascination with depression? Is it because depression is rapidly becoming
recognized as the one of the biggest health problems facing our society,
not only affecting adults, but teens and children?
This current climate is a far cry from the amount of public interest and
media coverage of depression just four years ago in 1994 when we produced a
conference called "Healing Depression" in Santa Monica, California that
inspired this book. At that time, depression was still a taboo subject
socially, a frightening and mysterious condition that was treated medically
with powerful psychotropic antidepressants which had disturbing side
effects. The controversial antidepressant drug, Prozac, had been on the
market for several years and was just penetrating the public consciousness
and beginning to make headlines. There was little or no interest in, nor
knowledge of natural alternatives to treating depression.
Today, thanks to the barrage of media stories and a number of well known
public figures who have disclosed their battles with depression, including
television journalist Mike Wallace, actor Rod Steiger and novelist William
Styron, much of the social stigma surrounding depression has been removed.
Discussion of depression in our culture has become more commonplace, and
it can now be mentioned in the same breath as being "anxious" or "stressed
out." Concurrently, there is an increasing public interest in natural
approaches to dealing with this health condition. Even conventional medical
doctors who have historically been known to only prescribe antidepressants,
are now responding to the public demand and are beginning to recommend
natural remedies like St. John's wort for mild to moderate depression.
A National Health Problem
One in four Americans will experience some degree of clinical depression or
mood disorder during their lifetime, and each year over twenty- five
million people will be diagnosed with a depressive illness. Two-thirds of
those suffering from depression are women. However, the recent focus upon a
"silent epidemic" of depression among men indicates that these figures are
in need of adjustment.1
All told, it is estimated that depression will cost our economy more than
forty-four billion dollars, and an annual loss of two hundred million work
hours. These numbers may be deceiving, however, given people's reticence in
the past to talk to their physician about depression. Today over 17 million
people, including teens and children, are currently on Prozac, the second
most commonly prescribed drug in America. Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly,
the maker of Prozac, is now engaged in a major media campaign to raise
public awareness about depression and Prozac. With the rising tide of
awareness of depression, many who would have never considered themselves
depressed will be taking Prozac, or some other antidote, pushing the
statistics even higher.
And it appears we are bringing our children along for the ride. It is
estimated that close to 13% of teenagers and approximately 3% of children
under thirteen suffer from depression according to the Center for Mental
Health Services. Until recently, no one has wanted to recognize that teens
and children suffer from depression. To make matters more difficult,
childhood depression is hard to identify and diagnose because it is so
easily confused with other health conditions, and because children lack the
verbal skills to explain what they are experiencing. As a result they act
out their depression in the only way they know how--what we commonly
describe as moodiness irritability, anger and even rage.
Are we becoming a "Prozac nation?" Prozac, despite its ability to transform
personality, appears to be a short-term solution to a long-term problem.
FDA statistics reveal unsettling reports of adverse side-effects ranging
from loss of sexual appetite to suicide and death. These serious
shortcomings, the rising incidence of depression, and the growing
popularity of natural health care, clearly demonstrates the need for safe
and reliable drug-free treatments. It is no surprise then that the
antidepressant herb St. John's wort, despite having been successfully used
for centuries, was barely on the radar screen in the United States four
years ago, but is now the number four-selling herb in the U.S. and is
outselling Prozac in Germany.
Where Does the Answer Lie?
We have spoken with an endless succession of people whose psychiatrist or
psychologist reflexively prescribed antidepressant medication for their
depression as the only available option. Modern medicine, with its focus on
treating disease with a single "standard of practice" has created a serious
situation for those being treated for depression in the class of
psychotropic antidepressant drugs. Many complain they have been on a
treatment merry-go-round for years, going from one antidepressant to
another, and are still seeking help. They report that they have had some
relief but at the cost of unpleasant and grave side-effects. Others,
however, have received virtually little or no relief, or have actually
gotten worse, and are becoming increasingly desperate.
Two things are clear. The human suffering resulting from depression is real
and impacts every aspect of one's life--family, work, and relationships.
Secondly, depression is not an illness that can be reduced to a single
cause or a single cure, as demonstrated by the problems associated with the
succession of antidepressant drugs produced over the years. There are no
magic bullets for depression.
Where then does the answer lie to relieving the toll of human suffering
brought on by depression? We have discovered that there are many answers to
solving this complex malady. The key is in understanding the many
underlying causes of depression, and becoming aware of the variety of
natural approaches to its treatment.
Many of the solutions come from the world's great systems of traditional
health care. Some have ancient roots such as herbal medicine, the oldest
form of health care on the planet, and the Greek medicine of Hippocrates.
Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, both of which have both been practiced
continuously for five thousand years, can rightly be called the original
systems of holistic medicine.
Other systems of traditional health care have more modern origins, such as
homeopathy and naturopathic medicine, each of which originated in early- to
mid-19th century Germany before taking root in the U.S. After having fallen
into obscurity for most of the 20th century due to the advent of miracle
drugs, both are now enjoying a major renaissance.
What all of these systems of traditional health care have in common is a
focus on health maintenance, prevention, treating the whole person,
reliance on natural therapies, and taking a more integrative,
multi-disciplinary approach to treatment in order to restore health and
internal balance. These systems also share another commonality--for most of
this century, each has remained outside the accepted standards of
conventional Western medicine, but are now becoming increasingly in demand
by people like yourself in search of solutions to their health problems.
In order to prevent illness and achieve optimum level of personal health,
it is important to be familiar with the tools that can help build a
wellness-based lifestyle, and become aware of all of your treatment
options. The approaches in this book represent the collective wisdom of
thousands of years of the great healing traditions as well as the best of
the emerging field of integrative medicine--nutrition, healthy lifestyles,
mind/body therapies, and spiritual practices.
We have brought together a team of nine leading experts from each of these
fields to present, for the first time, a comprehensive and integrated
picture of depression, including an understanding of its many causes,
prevention and time-tested natural approaches to its treatment. This team
of health professionals will provide an in-depth understanding of the
following primary systems of natural medicine:
Ayurveda: The traditional system of medicine in India, the
practice of Ayurveda extends to 3500 BC. The term Ayurveda means "Science
of Life," and it has a long history working with rejuvenation, longevity,
and mental health through diet, lifestyle, herbs, massage, yoga, and
Chinese Medicine: Practiced for over 5,000 years, Chinese
medicine includes the use of herbs, acupuncture, dietary therapy, massage,
lifestyle as well as qigong, a system that uses movement, energy and
breath. This medicine is based on balancing the flow of qi or life force
through the body's meridian system or energy pathways.
Herbal medicine: The therapeutic use of herbs to alter
physiology and mental/ emotional states. Both western and Chinese herbs
are explored here in the treatment of depression, and an emphasis on St.
John's wort as the most highly researched and publicized herb for treating
Homeopathy: Homeopathic remedies are designed to stimulate the
body's own natural powers of recovery to aid in overcoming the disease
rather than simply suppressing symptoms. Homeopathy aims to treat the
patient rather than the disease and has effective treatments for
Mind/Body Medicine: The use of stress-reduction techniques,
guided imagery, biofeedback, meditation and other modalities to achieve
higher levels of mind/body integration, greater capacities for
self-regulation and inner peace in order to better control anxiety and mood
Naturopathic Medicine: A comprehensive and natural approach to
medicine which looks at all of the factors needed to help move a person
towards health. This medicine looks to understand the underlying causes of
illness, and then addresses these causes with natural therapies such as
diet, lifestyle, herbs, homeopathy, nutritional supplements, hydrotherapy
Nutritional Medicine: This approach involves the use of diet and
nutritional supplements to correct nutritional deficiencies that may
contribute to biochemical imbalances in the brain resulting in depression.
Nutritional medicine also utilizes nutrients in higher, pharmacological
doses in order to push biochemical reactions in the desired direction to
bring about a return to balance and health..
Qigong: The Chinese art and science of gathering, circulating
and storing body/mind energy (qi) through breath and energy work. These
are techniques that involve movements and visualizations while standing,
sitting and moving.
Spiritual Medicine: An emerging field that explores the
spiritual dimension of health and psychology, utilizing psychospiritual
disciplines such as meditation, yoga, breathwork, self-inquiry and other
spiritual disciplines. In the more ancient systems of traditional health
care, the spiritual dimension of health was an integral part of a
comprehensive, holistic approach to health and well-being.
Yoga: A spiritual discipline practiced in India for many
thousands of years, employing diet, lifestyle, relaxation, physical
postures, breathing practices, meditation, and awareness to promote
physical, mental, and spiritual health.