Since the onset of the coronavirus shutdowns last March, depressions rates in this country soared by 300 percent. And that’s understandable, given all the economic, social, and medical uncertainties and challenges people continue to face.
But the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drugs commonly prescribed to help people struggling with depression just don’t work…and can cause great harm. (Scientists have now shown how and why these drugs don’t work and that the theory behind them has been all wrong, all along, as I will discuss in a forthcoming Dispatch.)
Fortunately, you have many safe, effective, non-drug options for fighting—and even treating—depression, rather than resorting to taking a harmful SSRI drug. In fact, researchers just identified six key lifestyle factors that affect your risk of suffering depression. And each of the factors are “modifiable,” meaning they’re all things you can control yourself!
“Modifiable” factors affect depression risk
For this new study, an international team of researchers analyzed information on about 85,000 men and women. Some of the participants had been diagnosed previously (or were currently struggling) with major depressive disorder (MDD), and some of them were healthy controls.
Overall, the researchers found that both the healthy controls and those with a history of depression experienced significantly fewer depression symptoms if they:
- Got seven to nine hours of sleep per night
- Followed a healthy diet
- Spent less time in front of a screen
- Engaged in moderate physical activity
- Weren’t current smokers
These factors all make sense…and relate to each other, as part of a virtuous cycle for good mental and physical health.
So, let’s touch on each of them briefly, starting with getting adequate sleep…
It’s a virtuous cycle for mental health
Getting enough sleep protects you against any number of chronic disorders…including depression.
However, if you stay up late into the night on your phone or watching TV, it takes away from your sleeping hours. Personally, I can’t imagine a worse waste of time…and sleep time, specifically…than staying up watching late-night TV, considering today’s meager offerings. Back in the days of Steve Lawrence, Jack Parr, and Johnny Carson, it might have been worth watching. But late-night TV today is a “vast wasteland” of content (as Newton Minow, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission [FCC], warned years ago), now drowning in today’s political correctness, to boot.
On the flip side, when you get enough sleep and spend less time in front of a screen, you experience more energy during the day to engage in some healthy physical activity…ideally, outside in Nature. And engaging in moderate activity, in turn, promotes restful sleep. So, it is, indeed, a virtuous cycle.
Lastly, having a poor diet or being a current smoker (which may include the unfortunate habits of eating and smoking in front of a computer or television screen) also negatively impacts every aspect of health, including sleep. So, it’s not at all surprising that the study found they can also exacerbate depression.
Moderate drinking helps ease symptoms in people with depression
If you were counting, you may have noticed I’ve only covered five factors so far. That’s because I want to talk about this last factor all on its own…
The researchers admitted that the sixth modifiable risk factor took them by surprise. Probably because it goes against the current neo-prohibitionist narrative that any and all alcohol consumption harms your health.
But in this study, people with a history of (or current) depression had less severe symptoms when they enjoyed some moderate alcohol consumption!
The researchers said that people with depression may be “self-medicating” with moderate alcohol to manage their moods. But that explanation seems to contain a judgmental tone.
Plus…it presents a conundrum.
If the neo-prohibitionists’ position that alcohol acts solely as a “depressant” is correct…then, “self-medicating” with alcohol would make people more depressed…not less, as this actual study showed.
The truth is…a wealth of evidence shows that moderate alcohol consumption actually lifts your spirits...and even works better than a fast-acting antidepressant. (They aren’t called “spirits” for nothing!)
I believe moderate drinking works to alleviate depression because it induces relaxation and stress reduction, which are key factors for mood. Just be mindful to cut off consumption by 8 PM nightly, so you don’t disrupt important REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. And I typically recommend sticking with just one to two drinks per day.
(You can learn more about the current research on alcohol and depression in the December 2019 issue of my Insiders’ Cures monthly newsletter [“Your step-by-step guide to a happier, healthier holiday season”]. If you’re not yet a subscriber, I can’t think of a better time to become one!)
Of course, beyond mental health, moderate alcohol consumption also benefits heart and brain health too. Especially among older people!
In the end, especially during these turbulent times, try to remember that few people can feel authentically rosy and cheerful 24/7. So, as Winston Churchill once said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going…”
Churchill himself suffered from depression, which he called, “the black dog” back then. So, as the statesman suggested, keep going and aim to keep up the six, simple, healthy lifestyle habits I discussed here today.
Lastly, if you or a loved one struggle with suicidal thoughts, please don’t wait. Help is available now. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK.
“Multiple lifestyle factors and depressed mood: a cross-sectional and longitudinal analysis of the UK Biobank (N = 84,860).”BMC Medicine, 2020. 18(354). doi.org/10.1186/s12916-020-01813-5
“Prevalence of Depression Symptoms in US Adults Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” JAMA Network Open, 2020; 3 (9): e2019686 DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.19686