As modern culture continues to rapidly change – including in ways known to compound emotional distress – researchers at the University of Washington and Clark University have argued we are now living in a “depressogenic society”: one that effectively incubates intense sorrow in its inhabitants. Regardless of how it arises, the pain of depression, in any of its forms, can be excruciating. So, it’s understandable that there are many ways people attempt to control and manage the pain.
In addition, there are other creative ways to start getting at the roots of this emotional pain by paying more careful attention to their underlying contributors, along with gentle approaches to work skillfully with the pain as it comes up. It has also been noted that exploring the variety of known contributors to this kind of emotional pain has helped us and others find deeper healing, especially as adjustments are made based on that knowledge.
Below, we gather summaries of what we’ve learned about this:
1. Nutrition improvement for depression. There is new evidence that changes to diet alone (independent of anything else) can make a measurable difference for some facing depression. A 2017 controlled study found that people supported in increasing healthy foods and tapering back on other foods – were significantly better compared to a control group – with approximately 30% no longer depressed (compared to 8% in the control group). And eleven different peer-reviewed articles have now confirmed the value of targeted nutritional supplementation youth and adults facing both unipolar and bipolar depression.
2. Physical activity for depression. Perhaps no lifestyle adjustment has received more scientific attention in the context of depression than exercise. The results have been so positive that in Great Britain, it’s not uncommon for physicians to “prescribe” a 10-week group exercise program. There were those among us who were so intrigued that they decided to pilot that exact intervention several years ago in Utah. Qualified personal trainers are an invaluable resource for those wishing to explore this approach and based on that, we now include a certified trainer as a resource for those wishing to explore this specific 10 week approach.
3. Mindfulness for depression. Those who learn to practice mindfulness are 50% less likely to relapse into depression. Several years ago, there were those among us who organized a randomized-controlled trial of youth struggling with depression, anxiety and attention problems – with statistical confirmation that those taking the mindfulness class had reduced depression and anxiety (and improved attention) compared with the control group.
That’s why many people have found classes like Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction and groups like Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy so helpful (google these in your area – and you’ll find one! And if you can’t check out Palouse Mindfulness for an online class version; there are also a ton of great mindfulness books, apps, and free practices available). While mindfulness may seem reasonable for those with mild to moderate depression, we once asked Jon Kabat-Zinn whether mindfulness can really help someone with serious depression. He said, “yes, they’re just going to need a lot more support in practicing it. If they have someone always there – like a walking buddy – they can still have a lot of benefit.”
If you’d like a gentle way to get up to speed with how to work with depression and other painful emotions mindfully, Mindweather 101 is an online course developed by mindfulness teachers with mental health expertise includes 7+ hours of guidance from 32 different mindfulness teachers, clinical researchers and therapists (see bios here) exploring a gentle, and creative approach to intense, painful emotions and dark, disturbing thoughts (click here to access a full written transcript; although the full class is available at Mindweather.org, direct links to the videos are available here as individual class segments; check out an analysis of sustainable healing themes in the class here).
4. Comprehensive Therapeutic lifestyle change (TLC). Although these separate interventions for depression are promising enough, it has been noted that the real excitement happens when bringing them all together in a comprehensive shift. First applied successfully to people facing cardiovascular problems and diabetes, a comprehensive “therapeutic lifestyle change” (TLC) intervention for depression was pioneered in America by Dr. Neil Nedley in Oklahoma and Dr. Stephen Illardi at Kansas State and Dr. Neil Nedley. To illustrate from one study, 72% of participants who completed a comprehensive lifestyle intervention experienced a 50% or greater reduction in depression scores to the point they were no longer clinically depressed (compared to 19% in the control group). A follow-up study of the same intervention found 77% of participants experiencing clinically significant improvements (vs. 29% in the treatment as usual group). Surprisingly, these improvements were maintained up to a 6 month follow-up – with no significant relapse after completion of active support (remarkable, compared with other modalities). Dr. Ilardi’s team concludes, “Progressive integration of each of these elements into a multi-component treatment for depression may provide sustainable improvement in depressive symptomatology.”
Dr. Nedley has found similarly encouraging results in his comprehensive lifestyle intervention. His depression recovery program is the gold standard for therapeutic lifestyle change for depression – and if this approach appeals to you, check out whether there is an in-person workshop available in your area (click here to see options specific to the Utah region). You can also see here an analysis of sustainable healing themes that have been gathered from reviewing reports across many participants.
Since it’s not always possible to get to an in-person location, this same lifestyle approach has been developed into an online platform called “Lift” as well (with android and Iphone apps as well). You can also click here to get a more in-depth glimpse of the many different factors explored as potential contributors in both the Nedley program (in-person) or Lift (online):
- Vulnerability & Strength Inventory for Depression (adults)
- Vulnerability & Strength Inventory for Depression (children and youth)
You can also check out these final two lessons in Mindweather as a way to learn more about therapeutic lifestyle change as applied to depression:
- Exploring the full range of contributors to mental/emotional distress (Part I, Part II)
- Considering the full range of options (Part I, Part II, Part III)
We’ve also included several powerful books that provide practical guidance in how exactly lifestyle adjustments (including, but going beyond mindfulness) can make a difference in deepening recovery from depression.
5. 12-steps for depression. While all this may sound great, we’ve heard from many for whom making any changes can feel overwhelming. How can someone who feels so awful (sometimes struggling to even get out of bed) even consider any of this?
For people who feel absolutely stuck and even “powerless” we recommend they check out Emotions Anonymous – a 12-step support group applied to anyone struggling with emotional distress of some kind. There are those among us who have personally experienced the surprising power of this approach in moments where we felt there was no hope and ability to move forward.
You can find in-person options in the U.S. here and around the world here – as well as online and phone support options here. The only requirement for joining is wanting to find more peace and healing in your life.
6. Healing deeper pains that may be contributing. Over the last decade, there has been a flowering of fresh, innovative approaches to support people in finding deeper healing from the past abuse and trauma that very often influences our present emotional/mental state. Along with help for the grief of losing a loved one or other experiences of loss, and including various levels of depression/anxiety and life challenges that often accompany these experiences, these resources can be a valuable tool for recovering emotional stability. Ranging from tailored trauma-oriented therapy to various kinds of body-work focused on similar healing, there may be an approach here that appeals to you in your own situation. Because the effects of serious trauma almost always go beyond mental/emotional experience to the body itself (The Body Keeps the Score), it can be especially encouraging to consider the cutting-edge science of epigenetics and the exciting research on the brain’s ability to change, known as neuroplasticity – both fascinating discoveries that you may wish to investigate to inform your plans for deeper healing.
If you have questions about any of these options, or would like to make a connection with others working with similar challenges, please consider joining one of our online Community Meetings. These meetings are held weekly and you are always welcome to participate! If you would like to join one of our Community meetings please click here.