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Curing Depression Through Complementary and Alternative Health

Updated on May 30, 2014

What this is About

Have you ever had that ‘down in the dumps’ feeling? What about inappropriate guilt or a sense of worthlessness, or just have zero interest in your regular or favorite activities? How long have you felt this way? You say at least two weeks and all the symptoms mentioned and others not mentioned jumbled into the same period? Well that settles it. You are a prime candidate for meeting the criteria for a Major Depressive Episode. “Recent statistics suggest roughly seven of every one hundred people suffer depression after age 18 at some point in their lives,” ( Through the use of Complementary and Alternative Health solutions, depression could be eliminated more efficiently and completely. This paper is designed to illustrate just how Complementary and Alternative Health solutions, in contrast and combination with Conventional Medicine Practices (also called Integrative Medicine), will find the heart of the issue and stop it.

Some Facts on Depression

“Major depressive disorder is one of the leading causes of functional impairment,” (Falvo, 231). According to WebMD, there are a number of factors that can contribute to forming depression in the mind of a person. Some of those factors are abuse (multiple types), medications that can increase your risk of depression, conflict, death and/or loss, major events (good and bad), major illness and a few others. Honestly, it could be one of the above, or it could happen on multiple fronts. From what has been read and studied, depression is both tough to predict and tough to cure. In some cases, depression can get so bad, that the client is not even able to perform the most basic of needs such as eating, sleeping or even bathing and brushing their teeth.

What Depression Can Look Like

When you look into the lifestyle of people with depression, for the most part, you may not even notice them. Work performance can be affected, because the person just might not care if the work actually gets done or not. When confronted by a manager about this, the mood is likely to swing again to where the person simply breaks down emotionally and starts to cry, or worse lash out in anger at the situation. This can turn into a release from work because the person was ill and no one knew it. His coworkers might have just thought him an angry man or someone fearing conflict with others, or even just attempting to draw attention to them. At home, this person’s lifestyle is also affected. The person in question is listless, sleepless, and finds little comfort in doing anything that he or she might have felt good about doing. Hobbies go to the wayside, friends are alienated away and never spoken to, dishes pile in the sink and start to smell, the house or apartment becomes a blatant mess and even the person is a shadowed mess of themselves. This person hardly showers, rarely brushes his/her teeth or shaves (face or legs depending on gender). These effects can lead to ill health, insomnia, and extreme weight gain or loss.

To give a true image, what you have is an unemployed, unwashed, sleep deprived, 35 year old man sitting in his badly needed to be washed sweats in front of his computer mindlessly poking through Facebook all day whilst drinking too much Diet Coke and eating out of a 46 ounce big bag of M&M’s with the blinds closed so the room is dark at all hours of the day. He rarely goes out, but only to get groceries and attempt to spend time with his friends on their weekly gaming night and to see his loving young daughter. Those last two being the only reasons for being cleaned up because of slight sense of proper image in public and possibly his only tethers to sanity. This is not a pleasant image to behold, and it is not even the worst it could be. Of course, all at once it could either come to head and crash more, or the person can just wake up one morning and decide for themselves that enough is enough, get off the self-pity wagon and get back into the pilot seat of the jet that is your life. In my own opinion, there are only two routes you can go when this occurs to you: You can either wallow by yourself in the darkest corner of your existence and cry in your own self-pity and loathing, or you can stand up, face forward and keep walking to the future. The world does not stop just because you are having a bad day, and time ever rolls forward. Always in motion, the future is, and that motion is forward. Look to the past for your lessons, plan ahead for the future (but not too far), but live in the present of what you can do today, for that is where you are and live.

Conventional Medicine

However, some people with depression cannot walk forward on their own accord, and are in need of guidance and help. There are treatments for depression. “The kind of depression treatment that’s best for you depends on the type of depression you have. For example, some patients with clinical depression are treated with psychotherapy, and some are prescribed antidepressants. Others are prescribed antidepressants and psychotherapy. Still others may undergo electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), also called electroshock therapy,” (WebMD).

Let it be clearly understood that no matter what treatment you doctor has you do, there are no instant cures. Let me repeat that: THERE ARE NO INSTANT CURES! We are in a society that thinks that everything can be helped by a pill or injection of some sort. That is far from the truth. These are meant as guides, like a compass, to help your mind work through the issues for itself, not to do it for you. Unfortunately, some begin to become too dependent on the antidepressants, and therefore cannot fathom a life without them. Not an addiction, per se, but more of reliance, like using a cane to walk for years after the injury has fully healed.

It is a fear of such dependence on drugs that prevents people from taking such medicine that they truly should have for themselves. This fear, along with the denial that they truly have depression, is the leading reason why only about 10% of the depressed population gets the help that they need in order to stop feeling down, and start living life. However, there are other treatments for depression that do not involve therapy, medication or electroshock.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Complementary and Alternative Medicine is “a large and diverse set of systems of diagnosis, treatment, and prevention based on philosophies and techniques other than those used in conventional Western medicine, often derived from traditions of medical practice used in other (non-Western) cultures. Such practices may be described as alternative, that is, existing as a body separate from and as a replacement for conventional Western medicine, or complementary, that is, used in addition to conventional Western practice. CAM is characterized by its focus on the whole person as a unique individual, on the energy of the body and its influence on health and disease, on the healing power of nature and the mobilization of the body's own resources to heal itself, and on the treatment of the underlying causes, rather than symptoms, of disease,” (

For the sake of argument, let us agree that you are depressed, but do not want to spend time in therapy or use medications that you might become over reliant on. Fair enough, most people have busy schedules as it is and since both are not really desirable, keeping to them will be most difficult. A change in diet can go a length to help improve your mood. Examples include eating protein rich foods like low-fat cheese, fish, poultry and yogurt, eating foods loaded with antioxidants, and staying away from lifestyle habits such as excessive drinking, ‘recreational’ drugs, and cutting caffeine from your diet so as to get better sleep at night. This is also linked to staying at a healthy weight and fitness level. People tend to feel better when they look better, and we are not just talking about clothes here. “Findings published in the journal of Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, show a link between obesity and depression, indicating that people who are obese may be more likely to become depressed. In addition, according to this study, people who are depressed are more likely to become obese,” (WebMD). Regular exercise is recommended in the fight not only against obesity (which is another animal altogether), but in the war on depression. Exercise is proven to reduce stress, boost self-esteem and improve sleep quality. Additionally, exercise gives benefits such as a strengthen heart, higher energy levels (low energy being a symptom of depression), lowers blood pressure and reduces body fat in order to make a person feel and look better. Not enough people use exercise as a treatment for mild to moderate depression, and that is natural, since not doing well at running, lifting weights, dancing, etc. in the beginning of a program can be a real shot to one’s ego. Once you are through this obstacle, however, you might not be able to run a marathon (although that is a cool goal to go for like Subway’s spokesperson Jared), but you should be able to keep up with your children when they decide to race up a flight of stairs. The key is to first set a big goal for you, and then give yourself checkpoints or mini goals along the path to ultimate success. If you do not want, or think, you can do it alone, find a class of supportive, like-minded people or at the very least a buddy with a similar goals in mind. You will be each other’s support system. Soon enough, you will be shedding pounds, gaining strength, flexibility and endurance and best of all: looking and feeling better about you.

For a more structured and goal orientated program for getting in shape rather than doing repetitious sets of weight lifting for different areas of the body, a good suggestion is taking up martial arts. “Training in martial arts usually involves many little steps and progressions. As one advances, the feeling of accomplishment comes with added confidence. This is especially beneficial for children who were not very confident in the first place. An increase in self-confidence for kids (as well as adults) will have a cross over effect in other areas of life such as in other sports and general self-esteem. Other challenges in life, both physical and mental, will be met with much less fear,” (Leung, 2005). Physically, a person training in martial arts will become stronger, have a better range of motion, feel an increase in stamina and will have a greatly improved cardiovascular fitness level and overall coordination will improve. This all brings balance to one of the person’s three selfs, the physical self. The mental or mindful self will also improve. As the increase in physical activity melt away through tensions and stressor, the practitioner will gain a focus and level of concentration that they will have never felt before. Part of nearly every martial art is an activity called forms, also known as patterns and hyungs. Through forms, each technique the person learns is given practical application. The practitioner learns combinations of what goes together in certain situations and in a controlled environment. To the outside observer, these forms have a distinct beginning and end and anywhere from fifteen to forty moves that flow seamlessly together. They can be very simple (to the watcher) to extremely complex. But to the practitioner, these forms are a world of their own, and not just the pattern that he or she is doing. Each move, despite leading to another, is in and of itself, its own world. There is nothing before the technique. There is nothing after the technique. There is only that span of time suspended in the mind and body of the user for that one, single, solitary technique to be performed and perfected. Once the technique is done, time stops briefly to the user. He or she then performs the next technique in the succession with the same focus and determination of the previous. This is a type of moving meditation to the user, and it allows for no other thoughts, feelings and pains to be had. There is no room for it. Inadvertently, or through design of the creators of martial arts, this has a deeply spiritual mindset. If a person with depression can gain the physical and mental discipline necessary to master even the simplest of martial arts techniques, then he or she has shown themselves the door to coming out of their depressive state and to better living in their lives. “Most studies on the long-term effects of martial arts training agree that martial arts are affective in producing positive social and psychological changes. There is usually an inverse relationship between the amount of time someone has been practicing, and the level of their aggression, hostility, and anxiety. The opposite can be said about the independence, self-reliance, and self-confidence of practitioners, which tends to increase with the period of time they have been training,” (Swiercz, 2009). Now, you may ask why martial arts are better than just general fitness and sports. This is a great question due to the fact that through sports a person can gain physical fitness, coordination and decent social interaction. “The Eastern arts, however, differ in their focus on the overall development of the practitioner. While martial arts tend to strive toward self-control and self-knowledge, many Western sports focus solely on competition between individuals and groups,” (Swiercz, 2009). Life is a balance of the three selfs: physical, mental, spiritual, and martial arts is a key to achieving that balance.

Looking for something with less impact (physically demanding) than martial arts training or hitting up the gym for general fitness? Who could do with a massage? For another cure/aid to lifting depression, we now turn to look at Therapeutic Massage also call Massage Therapy. “Therapeutic Massage is a systematic and scientific manipulation of the soft tissues and muscles of the body for the purpose of improving, maintaining and assisting the body in healing,” (Koopsen, 300, 2009). There are many known benefits to having a massage done to the body. With the proper application of hands, massage can increase blood flow and improve circulation, decrease pain by releasing endorphins and other pain-reducing neurochemicals, improve skin condition, texture and tone, relieve muscle tightness by promoting relaxation and allowing the blood to flow easier increasing the amount of oxygen and nutrients the muscles receive. Mentally, therapeutic massage can foster peace of mind, create a relaxed state of mental alertness, relieve stress and reduce anxiety. Emotionally (spiritually), massage gives a nurturing touch, fosters a state of well-being, reduces anxiety and increases the awareness of the mind-body connection.

Massage therapy has been known to help with a list of medical issues such as anxiety and depression, arthritis, back and neck pain, digestive disorders, headaches (especially associated with muscle tension), range of motion and insomnia. According to a study conducted in 1996 on the effect of massage and relaxation therapies performed on 32 depressed adolescent mothers, “the mothers received ten 30 minute sessions of either massage therapy or relaxation therapy over a five week period. Both groups reported lower anxiety levels following the first and last session, however, the massage group additionally showed behavioral and stress hormone changes. The results of the study suggested that the control group reported a decrease in anxiety but did not show the same effects in their stress hormone levels or behavior as the treatment group experienced,” (Carlson, 2007).

I love to laugh. In fact, I am said to have quite a hearty laugh that I can be heard across my store or even across a field (depending on conditions). Laughter lets the stress out of you by combating the serum cortisol in your system. Cortisol, of course, is the chemical in our blood that is both created by stress and is fed off of stress. I once made a classmate laugh so hard that her dehydration/stress headache was completely cured out of her for the day. “Humor therapy (sometimes called therapeutic humor) uses the power of smiles and laughter to aid healing. Humor therapy helps you find ways to make yourself (or others) smile and laugh more,” (WebMD, 2011).

“Extensive research on 'laughter therapy' did not begin until after the New England Journal of Medicine published an article by Norman Cousins in 1976. Later, in 1979, this article became the first chapter of his book, 'Anatomy of an Illness.' In it he explained how he was diagnosed in 1964 with ankylosing spondylitis (also known as spondylitis, AS, or Bechterew Disease). The disease usually results in acute inflammation of the spine and can affect other areas of the body as well. Norman Cousins' case was so severe that he was given a one in five hundred chance of recovery and a few months to live.

Realizing that negative thoughts and attitudes can result in illness, he reasoned that positive thoughts and attitudes may have the opposite effect. So he left the hospital and checked into a hotel where he took mega doses of vitamin C and watched humorous movies and shows, including 'Candid Camera' and the Marx Brothers. He found that ten minutes of boisterous laughter resulted in at least two hours of pain-free sleep. He continued his routine until he recovered. Thus, he proved that laughter is the best medicine, and pointed the way to mind-body medicine,” (Pekkar, 2010).

Laughter is what keeps us young, happy and for the most part pain free. It is a personal goal of some to make at least ten people laugh daily. In a world like ours (rough economy, oppression, war, bad politics), we need all the laughter we can get. There are many types of humor to be had. What’s yours?

Integrative Health

Integrative Medicine “stresses the importance of using evidence to understand how best to integrate both complementary and alternative therapies into our current healthcare system,” Koopsen, xx, 2009). When speaking of healing people, including that of people who suffer from clinical depression, it is important to look into what the best of both worlds of therapy are when it comes to relieving people of their depressed state of being. Many people to combat depression use antidepressants. Antidepressants are drugs that designed to re-balance chemical imbalances in the brain and attempt to raise a person’s mood. In theory, antidepressants are used as a guide to being able to deal with bad situations and stress. I reality, people end up using the drugs as a permanent fix. They have either become so dependent on the medication to keep them straight or they are afraid of what might happen if they quit. That is the problem with medicating depression, it might even out your emotional state, but it does not teach you to do it for yourself. As mentioned above, martial arts (or even just a fitness program in general) are also a fine combatant in the war on depression. But, people, especially those that are depressed, will shy away from the activity due to a lack of confidence. People are interesting in the way that if at first you do not succeed at a project or problem, they tend to give up or cite some excuse or another of why it cannot be done.

This is where the concept of integrative medical practices comes into view. With the aid of light antidepressant medication, the patient will feel better about themselves and what they might be able to accomplish. With this feeling, the patient can then be guided into either a workout program or a more structured, pre-set goal program of martial arts practice. Over time as the patient’s skills increase, their level of confidence in what they can accomplish (both in martial arts and in daily life) will also increase. When enough confidence is built and the care provider can see it, the provider can start decreasing the amount of antidepressants needed to keep the patient’s spirits up. Eventually, the patient will be weaned completely off of the drugs and will have a great amount of confidence, high self-image and skills to show for it as well as a fantastic balance between the mind, body and spirit.


Throughout this paper, it has been illustrated what methodologies can be used in the treatment of major depression. We have seen Conventional Medical Practices with the use of medication, psychotherapy and electroconvulsive therapy, Complementary and Alternative Health practices with the use of general exercise and diet, martial arts, massage therapy and laugh therapy, and how both concepts can be used in conjunction with the other using the philosophy of Integrative Medicine. With all of these methods (an more) working together, depression can be stopped at the source. Let’s get to work!


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