Plenty of depression in the land of plenty.jpg

Plenty of depression in the land of plenty



As promised, this year I’m going to write about the 12 most important illnesses in the developed world, and this week the topic is depression.

The US government recently sponsored a study to investigate alternative treatments for depression, costing 35 million dollars. This research was carried out by the National Institute of Mental Health.

As a bystander, I assume it was not due to any great interest the US government had for depression, but the fact that, every year, 15 million cases of depression are diagnosed in America, a figure that equates to seven per cent of the adult population.

There, depression is the most common cause of incapacity and absence from work among 15 to 44-year-olds. Expressed in hard figures, it represents an 83 billion dollar cost for the US economy and the health system. The director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Thomas Insel, calls depression one of the great challenges for his profession.

If you recall my article, which I wrote with François Lelord, a French psychiatrist who travelled around the globe to find the roots of happiness, you will remember his astounding discovery that the number of psychiatrists a country has is reciprocally related to its wealth. Or, in other words, the wealthier a country, the more psychiatrists that country has.

François, by the way, has recently followed another psychiatrist who discovered a pill that could maintain the feeling of “being in love”. This pill was a mixture of Ocytocin and Dopamin and a pharmaceutical company was very keen to get hold of the formula for it. If you are interested, you can follow François on his journey in his latest, fascinating book, Hector et Les Secrets de L’Amour, published by Éditions Odile Jacoc in Paris.

But, back to depression … Every year, around 189 million prescriptions for antidepressants are written in the US. The above study looked into the effects of these medications and found that they are not as good as previously assumed. Around 50 per cent of the treated patients still suffer from symptoms of sadness and despair, despite the best medication and care.

The figures of the pharmaceutical industry are better, because they take improvement as the finishing point in their study, not cure, hence the study, Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression, which I am sure you can find on the internet with the help of Mr. Google.

The question that comes to mind is, understandably, why are the people of the richest and most powerful country in the world so depressed? I do not know the answer, but I feel strongly that we should reconsider our role models and idols. It would, of course, be nice if Portugal could become as wealthy as the US, but would it mean that many people would become depressed because of that?

People from the UK or Germany who decide to move to Portugal often give the different lifestyle here as being one reason – it is quieter and less hectic. However, and strangely, the Portuguese are top of the league when it comes to the intake of tranquilisers. Again, I don’t know why that is, but life and human beings seem to be more complex and complicated than we would like to think.

The answers cannot be found in tablets, and the solution for Portugal and the rest of the world does not lie in economic growth, but personal development and a back-to-basics approach toward old and tested values, like the family and responsibilities for the community.

The treatment for depression should be multi-professional and only at the end should tablets be used. The health professional involved should establish possible causes for the illness and develop a programme for the patient that involves his or her family and friends.

Here are a few natural and side effect-free antidepressants:

• A mission/profession/hobby that one is truly committed to

• Responsibility for other people, like children, family and friends

• Lots of social activities (without alcohol and drugs)

• Regular fun and physical exercise outdoors

• Sunbathing and daylight

• Healthy food

• Massages, sauna and yoga

• Supplements like magnesium and ‘highish’ doses of vitamin C and B

• Structured days, balancing the pleasant and the less pleasant tasks

• Charitable work

If you feel depressed, seek professional help, but don’t expect the problem to be solved by popping a pill.

Dear Reader, springtime is here and, with more light, it becomes quite difficult to feel low. Treat yourself to long walks along the Algarve’s beautiful beaches and enjoy the magnificent flowers everywhere. My favourite, by the way, is the Star of Peru.

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