I was standing in the queue at the supermarket, with my harvest of salmon and a fine pinot noir (it’s okay, its got resveratrol in it and I am having it with organic vegetables from my garden), when a woman came up to me and said, “You’re that naturopath from Eastlife aren’t you?”  “Gosh, I thought, I have made it.  Is this what happens to Brad (Pitt)?”  While I was basking in momentary glory, the crunchy question came:  “My husband suffers from depression.  How would you fix it with natural medicine?”   Right, your standard supermarket conversation.

This is where you pop in to a nearby phone box, don your suit of blue/red/hint of white, and make magic happen.  Unfortunately my suit was at the drycleaners, so I had to fall back on existing medical studies.  I put on my wise face and said, “Well yes, depression is associated with a number of factors, including dysfunctional cortisol, imbalanced hormones, low BDNF, high homocysteine, vitamin deficiencies, mineral deficiencies, low cholesterol, under/over methylation, pyroluria, dysglycaemia, free radical damage, high levels of inflammation, a high omega 6:3 ratio, food allergies, low thyroid function, hormonal dysfunction, heavy metal toxicity, aspartame toxicity, and/or a whole lot of other stuff that impacts on neurotransmitters.  The trick is to find out which ones are driving his depression”.

There is so much more to say.  Stuff like the brain is a chemical factory producing neurotransmitters day in and day out.  These critters determine how you feel and how you get through every day.  The key players are:  serotonin, GABA, noradrenaline and dopamine.  They determine whether you are depressed; have anxiety attacks; suffer from schizophrenia, and bi polar; your joy factor; and some of the more scary diseases associated with aging.  They in turn drive other things.  For example if your serotonin is low, your melatonin will be low.  That is your sleep hormone.  So you will not only fell glum, you will have trouble sleeping.  That will drive a cascade of other symptoms.  All these thoughts were racing through my head as I struggled with trying to reduce them to a simple explanation.  Instead, I smiled.

The delightful lady at the checkout had been listening intentionally and said that very few people in India suffered from depression, which was so very wrong, but my father warned me not to cross someone who is about to give you an invoice.

While I was packing my groceries, the three-way conversation continued.  “So, what should I give him.  He is currently on an anti-depressant?”  Oh yes this is so very easy.  I want to burst into song that all depression is not the same, that there are nine major categories of depression, that you need to identify where each individual sits because if you treat a person with one set of drivers with the protocol for a different set of drivers, you can make them worse.  This is where conventional medicine falls down so badly.

As I am pondering how to convey the complexity of depression treatment, my 16-year-old son clicks in.  “Papa can we just go. Please?”   I wonder how Brad copes.

After I pay my bill with nothing to lose, I lean across to the checkout operator and say, “Actually, India has one of the highest rates of male depression that I know of.  It is resulting in high rates of suicide.   I am truly sorry.   The reasons are shocking, but no one seems to care.   A firm call Monsanto is scamming small farmers with Roundup Ready Crops and based on false promises, the farmers lose their land and then take their lives, ironically in some cases by drinking Roundup”.  She looks at me strangely.

I escape to the car park, but my new friend is not to be deterred.  Before I can get into the car she is there.  “Well, what do you think of Prozac?”.  My 16 year old does his eye-rolling thing, while I try and explain that Prozac is a drug that treats symptoms.  It does not treat causes, and it comes with side effects.  A person is not deficient in Prozac, but it can be a useful short-term strategy.

“Okay so what should I give him?”

The word “escape” pops into my mind.  I said, “Look, I have not seen your husband.  He is not a widget.  He is a unique person.  His depression could be caused by any of the factors I rattled off before.  How can I possibly tell you what is driving his depression, without seeing him.  He is currently under a doctor’s care.  It is not for me to go against that”.

My sixteen year old starts to look brighter, but she comes back with “So what should I do?”

“Well, a good start would be him coming to see me so that I could run some tests to see what is going on in his body”.

“Nah, I don’t think he would come.  He doesn’t have a lot of faith in natural medicine”.

“Well, then he should stick with his current provider”

“But, it isn’t working.  You don’t know what my husband is going through”

(Snap!) “That is my point.  I need to know what is going on for him. What is it that is driving him to this dark and horrid place, a place where you lose hope”.

The next day, the phone rang.  It was Mr Supermarket.

When we first met, he was clearly sceptical, but after a few tests, he started to take notice.  He had extremely high levels of inflammation, a food allergy, a leaky gut, an underactive thyroid, testosterone aromatising to oestradiol, mercury toxicity and he was chronically deficient in some key nutrients.   I warned him that it was not a quick fix and he would have to change several lifestyle habits and his diet.  He said that he would do anything to leave the depression behind him.

We worked together over the following months.  We started by fixing his gut, correcting deficiencies and reducing inflammation, then raising his energy levels.  We used nutrients to balance his thyroid and stop his testosterone aromatizing to estradiol.  He was an under-methylator and needed a specific protocol.  Had we treated him as an over-methylator, we would have made him worse (Thank you Dr Bill Walsh from the Wash Pfeiffer Institute for your absolute brilliance and your perseverance with my hunger to learn).

Finally we did a full detoxification program.  It was not a quick fix, as predicted, but as his body came back into balance, his depression abated.  By the six-month mark, his depressive episodes had significantly lessened in frequency and severity.  By the 12-month mark, the depression had gone.

Will it come back?  I don’t know, but I suspect that if he reverts to his former lifestyle it may well do.  Exactly what caused it?  Again, I do not know for sure, but I suspect it was a combination of things that had just overcome his body and flicked on genetic switches that resulted in a free pass to the dark place.

I have seen first hand what depression is, is not, and what it can do to individuals and their families.  I was the CEO of one of the largest non-government providers of mental health services.  I question when someone is diagnosed with depression.  I have debated with psychiatrists the basis of their diagnosis.  There are no tests performed and someone is labelled with a disease on the basis of how they feel and someone else’s interpretation of that.  Of course, once you have a diagnosis, then you can give a particular drug and everyone is happy, but are they?  I only know of one budding psychiatrist who focused on causes and the others of her profession shunned her, to the point where she walked away from her greatness.

In one of the pilot studies that we conducted, in conjunction with an international foundation, all the participants came off their medications, which they had been on for several years.  They reported that their biggest concerns were experiencing feelings of love, humour and connectedness not previously experienced and not knowing how to deal with them.  How absolutely marvellous!

As we continued our groundbreaking work with depression, bi polar and schizophrenia, I mistakenly assumed that our results would be applauded and replicated ……Wrong!  The only ones who were impressed were the clients and their families.  It would appear that patch protection, profit, ego and fitting in are more important than getting people well.

On one set of statistics, by the year 2020, one out of every two people will suffer a serious depressive episode.  I have the privilege to co-lead a family of five.  In my darker moments I worry that two and a half of them will fall prey to this statistic.  If I do my job right, then another family of five will all suffer.

Depression is not normal (Hello).  If you are depressed then you are not suffering from a deficiency of some drug.  There is something in your body that is unbalanced.  The body is a self-healing mechanism, but sometimes, it needs help to do what it does best.  Drugs are a short-term option, not a long-term fix.  At bewell, we work with you to find underlying causes and a long-term fix.