“Depression is among the leading causes of disability worldwide.” – World Health Organization
“20% of the soldiers who have been deployed in the past 6 years have PTSD, that’s over 300,000.” – Michelle Rosenthal, Heal my PTSD
The statistics are frightening. Even MORE frightening is that these rates are increasing.
-Depression is at an all-time high, especially among the military.
-In 2009 alone, the number of diagnosed cases of PTSD in the military jumped 50%.
-Military suicide has become an epidemic.
Chances are if you’re reading this, you know someone affected by depression or PTSD. It might even be affecting YOU.
So why is this happening to you and/or your loved ones? Are they insane? Have you lost your mind? Not necessarily. It might just be the mental effects of chronic stress.
You’ve all experienced the mental effects of temporary stress. You cry for a while, scream at the kids, have a bad night’s sleep, bang your head against the wall, and then things usually get better.
But for some, especially those under chronic stress or who’ve been exposed to a traumatic event, things don’t get better. They get worse. Then they get a diagnosis. That diagnosis comes with a “label” they usually carry with them for the rest of their life. And that label changes EVERYTHING.
“Don’t invite her. She has depression. She’ll be a complete downer. She won’t have fun anyway.”
“Stay away from him. He has PTSD. I’ve read about that. He’s mentally ill. What if he snaps!?!?”
Depression and PTSD are typically considered mental illnesses. But technically and physiologically, these conditions are a result of hormonal changes directly related to the amount of stress or trauma someone is exposed to. To keep things simple, we’ll look at two key hormones: serotonin and adrenaline.
Serotonin regulates pain, sleep and mood. Levels of serotonin decrease during periods of stress because one of its precursors (L-tryptophan, yep the stuff in turkey that makes you sleepy) is used to make B vitamins, which are in turn, used to make stress hormones. This leaves little L-tryptophan to make serotonin. (See below for a simple explanation of stress physiology)
STRESS HORMONES <- B VITAMINS <- L-TRYPTOPHAN -> 5-HTP -> SEROTONIN -> MELATONIN
Low levels of serotonin have been linked to chronic pain, trouble sleeping, and depression. Sound familiar?
When you’re stressed, your adrenal gland (she introduced herself in a previous article) produces adrenaline as a part of your “Fight or Flight” response.
FYI, this is what excess adrenaline production can cause:
– Memory problems
– Inability to concentrate
– Poor judgment
– Seeing only the negative
– Anxious or racing thoughts
– Constant worrying
– Irritability or short temper
– Agitation, inability to relax
– Isolating yourself from others
– Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)
If you think that these symptoms sound a lot like PTSD, you’re right. The physiologic effects of excess adrenaline are almost identical to what psychiatrists use to diagnose PTSD, which in their minds, is a “mental” illness, requiring psychotropic drugs with a questionable track record (more on this in a future article.) These drugs are known to increase suicidal thoughts and behaviors in pediatric patients, adolescents and young adults. These drugs are dangerous. They’re required to carry a “BLACK BOX WARNING” on the label, given to drugs that carry a significant risk of serious or even life-threatening adverse side effects. (As always, never, and I mean NEVER discontinue any medication without first discussing it with the prescribing physicians, ESPECIALLY antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.)
There’s got to be a better way…
In my opinion, the only way to reverse this trend is to stop viewing depression and PTSD as “mental” illnesses, and start looking at them as physiologic issues. Recent Homefront United articles have highlighted the effectiveness of equine and canine therapy for PTSD. They may “seem” like mental therapies, but I think the reason they’re so effective is that they put those affected in a “happy place” putting their body’s physiology in a “relaxed state.” Drugs don’t do that. I also think that recognizing depression and PTSD as physiological imbalances would:
1. Help those affected realize they haven’t lost their mind.
2. Encourage those affected to seek help from professionals better equipped to deal with their issues.
3. Remove the life-altering stigma associated with these conditions.
In future articles, we’ll be discussing effective, natural ways to de-stress in much greater detail. Exercise, yoga, meditation, chiropractic and supplementation to name a few. If you want to learn more about a specific topic, or want readers to hear about something that’s working for you, feel free to share in the comments section below!