Ellie Zarrabian MA, PhD (c)

Are you having a hard time feeling good about yourself? Do you experience a loss of interest and enjoyment in life and have a tendency to isolate yourself? Is it hard for you to focus or concentrate on a task or an activity? Do you have feelings of guilt and unworthiness? How about having a hard time sleeping or the opposite, are you sleeping much but still feeling tired? Do you find yourself over eating or under eating? Do you have minimal energy or sexual drive? Do you have difficulty making decisions because you often feel a sense of helplessness, and hopelessness about your life and your future in general? Do you think about hurting yourself?

If you’ve answered yes to most of the questions above, then you are probably suffering from depression. But don’t be alarmed! You are not alone. Depression is very common in the United States. Next to that is anxiety. In 2004, over 19 million adults reported having suffered from depression [1]. This number is believed to be inaccurate because it does not take into account the many people who live with depression but do not report it. It also does not take into account the number of children, teenagers and young adults who are suffering from depression. If this is not alarming enough, if you are a woman, you are twice as likely to suffer from depression [2] and if you are pregnant, you chances of experiencing depression during pregnancy are even higher [3].

Depression is a devastating epidemic in our culture and many people are suffering in silence because most people who are depressed do not get any help for it. The people who do get help generally turn to medications first [4]. People who are depressed are usually prescribed antidepressant medication. Antidepressants act on neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood. But because these neurotransmitters affect other functions in the body as well, side effects are common. These side effects include: dry mouth, weight gain, increased blood pressure, lower sexual drive, insomnia, and a loss of feeling of normality [5]. There are six types of antidepressants that are commonly prescribed. Among them all, Prozac is the most commonly prescribed antidepressant medication by physicians. But did you know that most of the physicians who treat people who are extremely depressed are not psychiatrists? In other words, most people who see a doctor for their depression do not see the right type of doctor.

It is clear that antidepressant medications help many people find relief from an otherwise a very debilitating disease. However, they do not work for everybody all the time. For many people it takes a while before the correct dosage is determined because the effects of antidepressant medications are so variable from person to person. Therefore, there might be a long waiting period before the individual feels the beneficial effects. Other times, these drugs even produce the opposite effect and make people more depressed. People can also develop dependency, over dose on them or abuse them. These drugs can also be harmful for children and pregnant women and their unborn child because it is not yet clear how these drugs affect a developing brain. Another major drawback with medications is that they do not address or deal with the root of the problem, they just mask the symptoms.

There are other types of treatments that are not as invasive as drugs and do not produce the same side effects as antidepressant medications. For example, psychotherapy can be used to explore unexamined beliefs and childhood events that lead to the depression. Cognitive therapy is designed to help people recognize and interrupt negative thinking patterns. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps people change the way they think and behave with the goal of making long lasting changes in their life [6].

Other forms of therapy that are shown to be very helpful in treating depression are yoga and mindfulness meditation practices, acupuncture and herbs. Lifestyle changes like adopting a healthy diet and exercising regularly are also beneficial. Other non-traditional approaches include: healing touch, prayer, non-local intention, homeopathy, qigong and shamanic healing practices. One thing is clear though, when dealing with depression it is very important to work with a trusted professional. Just as if you had a brain tumor you would go and see a professional. The same is true with depression; you can’t treat it on your own. You need a professional’s help regardless of the route taken.

As a psychotherapist and holistic healer I try to encourage my clients to use these more holistic approaches first when dealing with depression or anxiety especially if they are pregnant or are under 24 years of age. But if I come across people who are adamant about taking medications first, I always want to encourage them to become educated and fully aware of the implications of these drugs before they take them or give them to their children. I also always say consult as many different doctors and health care practitioners as possible and ask lots of questions. Then get second and third opinions on those opinions. Once all the information has been gathered and the pros and cons have been weighed then decide on the meds.



[1] Norman, J. (2004). Gender bias in the diagnosis and treatment of depression. International Journal of Mental Health, 33(2), 32-43.

[2] Ebmeier, K. P., Donaghey, C., & Steele, J.D. (2006). Recent developments and current controversies in depression. The Lancet. 367,153-167.

[3] Godfrey, J. R. (2005). Toward optimal health: Donna E. Stewart, M.D. discusses perinatal depression. Journal of Women’s Health, 14, 803-807.

[4] Dimidjian, S., Dobson, K., Kohlenberg, R., Gallop, R., Markley, D. K., Atkins, D. C., Hollon, S, D., Schmaling, K. B., Addis, M. E., McGlinchey, J. B., Gollan, J. K., Dunner, D. L., & Jacobson, N. S. (2006). Randomized trial of behavioral activation, cognitive therapy, and antidepressant medication in the acute treatment of adults with major depression. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 74(4): 658-670.

[5] Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 822-848.

[6] Carey, B. (2004). Thought therapy; Small changes in thinking and behavior can be as effective as antidepressants . Los Angeles Times, p. F1.