By Dr Tracie O’Keefe DCH, published in Living Now magazine, Sept/Oct 2001
Depression is among one of the world’s 10 most common health disorders. This fact is recognised by The World Health Organisation. In some countries it can rank as high as the second or first most common psychological complaint. Around 800,000 people suffer from depression in Australia alone each year. In the public health system the cost of treating depression runs at around $400 million and is kept down by the high use of drug treatments, administered by general physicians and psychiatrists. In other words, the drug companies are making a fortune and looking at a very fat profit margin for their investors.
Depression has many causes including physical, psychological and also may be due to a person’s work, family and social circumstances. Loss and bereavement may further exacerbate the mood of a person who may have a tendency to go into a depressive state of mind. Whatever the cause, the symptoms are generally the same – lethargy, foreboding, lack of energy, feelings of oppression, hopelessness, ineptitude and a tendency to want to withdraw from social contact.
The physical causes of depression can be premenstrual tension, excess stress, post-natal blues, an adjunct of mental illness, hormonal imbalances, thyroid dysfunction, poor diet, lack of exercise, chronic pain or fatigue due to overworking. Very rarely it can be a symptom of a brain tumour.
The psychosocial causes can be loneliness, isolation, feelings of being unappreciated, a sense of not being able to get on in the world, reliving a past trauma, and the most common one that I encounter is a general lack of self-confidence that tends to plague so many people. What is also common is that depression very frequently runs in families, as what happens is the adult who has the inability to cope passes on the same kind of thinking processes to the younger generations, almost by default.
Unfortunately general physicians do not have the time to screen all the possible causes of depression to correctly diagnose and prescribe the right kinds of treatment for every individual, as their workload is too heavy. When they prescribe magic pills to try and boost the person’s serotonin levels, the cause of the problem is rarely dealt with, merely subdued in the hope they will get over their problems. As the results from surveys show, this is rarely the case.
I still encounter clients who have been on happy pills for 30 years or more, become addicted, and are unable to live their lives without them. Sadly, many of these people are unable to live happy lives with the pills either. Such medication should only ever be used for short-term emergency treatments and are not designed for long-term use, but no one tells that to the client. Drugs like Temazepam, Prozac and Zolof are not the answer to depression, just the plug that stems the flow, without turning off the flood. Herbal remedies are also not entirely without side effects. For instance it has just been discovered that St John’s Wort interacts with certain levels of testosterone and can cause problems.
Depression, for most people, is not an illness in the classical sense; it is a natural signal that tells us that we need to change the course of events, both inside and outside our minds. It is not natural to be happy all the time because then we would be manic and totally out of touch with reality. A depressive state is our unconscious mind telling us that we need to pay attention to something that is happening with us, look at it, and make changes. If we fail to do this, the depression will continue because that is its job – to alert us to the fact that changes need to be made. What I am saying is: welcome depression and listen to what it has to tell you as it is giving you an important message that you have to take action to restore and maintain health.
Sofia had been ill with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for four years and she had never had any advice on diet or the fact the she needed to exercise in order to stimulate her immune system. She felt that she had been simply ignored and not believed about her illness. The depression she had encountered at the end of the four years had become so severe that she was considering suicide when she came to see me.
We worked on a multi-faceted level, seeing her holistically as a person and not just a client with an illness. We worked out a diet to maximise her recovery and a gentle exercise programme to help her get back in touch with the body that she no longer felt belonged to her.
Using hypnosis and counselling, she was helped to begin to change her beliefs about what was possible for her in the future and how she could take control of her life and health in order to begin to live well again. Within six months she was working part-time at a health store and studying women’s history. She said that she had to wake up to get better because she felt she had been asleep for four years and no one could hear her cries for help.
Anthony, having been under pressure by his parents to get good exam results at school, had spent further years training as an accountant. After failing his accountancy qualifications twice he felt that he would never be able to match up to the kind of achievements that his parents had expected from him as an only child. They did not like his girlfriends, apartment or the motorbike he drove. He felt depressed and a failure.
When he came to see me he had been on Prozac for 18 months that he kept taking under the instruction of his physician, but felt that his academic performance was only getting worse not better, which made him feel awful. The first thing we talked about was asking his physician to remove him from the medication while he undertook therapy.
We looked at his belief systems, how those could be changed, and what beliefs he would need to have to enjoy doing the work he was doing. In order to do that we needed to do deeper work on clarifying what his primary values were in life and what he needed from life to be happy. Then he restructured his values, beliefs and attitudes towards what he was doing for a living. He identified the goals that he would like to achieve when he passed his accountancy exams and what that would do for him. This was all done with absolutely no regard of what his parents wanted for him.
He was given daily breathing and self-hypnosis exercises to practise so he was able to induce his own ability to change his internal state of mind. Six months later he passed his exams, but left the profession, and because of his qualification was able to secure a loan to start a motorbike dealership.
Treatments for depression need to take a holistic approach considering all the aspects of a person’s life including the physical, mental and spiritual aspects. Part of my treatment approach is the test question of: Are you having fun? If you are not, the depression is telling you to change and make your life different.
My number one rule of life is – HAVE FUN!
Ultimately the depressed person needs to understand that nothing is for nothing and in order to get better they need to work at it. No one person or thing is going to do that for them. There is no need for anyone to suffer. The good news is that it is possible to treat depression very effectively with clinical hypnotherapy, psychotherapy and counselling in a fast and long-lasting way. There are therapeutic techniques that can change the way you think dramatically in order to change the way you feel, forever, allowing you to get on with life and, of course, have some more fun. Did you know it takes less energy to smile, than it does to frown?
Dr Tracie O’Keefe DCH, BHSc, ND, Clinical Hypnotherapist, Psychotherapist. Counsellor, PACFA registered Mental Health Professional and Naturopath In Sydney. You can get help by booking an appointment with her at Australian Health & Education Centre.