Coping with depression

Are antidepressants the solution?

Most people know what it feels like to be depressed – and it is entirely normal to feel down following bereavement, divorce, redundancy or other life problems. It is when depression becomes a way of life that it becomes a problem, and often this is hard to recognise. Sometimes it is someone close to you – a friend, relative or colleague – to recognise that you need help.

Anti-depressants may be the most common treatment but they aren’t always the most welcome. It is true to say that they make people feel better and are often suitable for a bad patch, but there are sometimes side-effects, and if taken for long enough they can become addictive.

Doctors were criticised for putting housewives on Valium in the 1970s and 80s because they became seriously addicted. More recently there have been worries about drugs like Seroxat which have made some people much more depressed and in some cases led to suicide. SSRI drugs like Seroxat are not given to young adults any more because of several highly publicised suicide cases.

According to a report on Depression carried out by The Centre of Economic Performance’s Mental Health Policy Group what people really need is counselling. ‘We now have evidence-based psychological therapies that can lift at least a half of those affected out of their depression or chronic fear.’

However according to the report the drawback is ‘We not have enough therapists. In most areas waiting lists for therapy are over nine months or there is waiting list at all because there are no therapists. If you go to the GP all that can be provided is medication. But many people will not take medication, either because they dislike the side effects or because they want to control their own mood.’

In this instance the therapy that the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) and the Depression Report are keen to offer is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy because it appears to work quicker than counselling.

What can someone with depression do?

Despite the shortage of therapists it is wise to visit the GP with any of the symptoms of depression in case there is another cause. It is also possible that you might be in a practice where counselling is on offer. Many people take their own action and pay to see a counsellor because they can’t wait for the NHS to provide one, because they don’t want to take drugs and because they want to know that they can have more than a few sessions.

The symptoms:

  • Lack of focus or concentration
  • Persistently feeling down or sad
  • Tiredness, low energy levels
  • Poor self-esteem
  • No interest in external things or people
  • Sleeping problems
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Sexual difficulties and low libido
  • Contemplating suicide or self-harming
  • Forgetfulness
  • Headaches, back pain and other ailments
  • Low confidence levels
  • Negative attitude to everything
  • Inability to work or socialise

What happens when you go to a counsellor?

A counsellor does not tell people what to do but guides them to making the best decisions for themselves. The advantage of seeing a counsellor is that they are not emotionally involved with you and during the session they are dedicated to listening to you and helping you to take charge of your life.

Counselling and psychotherapy examine childhood and patterns and beliefs that were built up in the past. In extreme circumstances if someone suffered abuse as a child it shapes their whole lives and by examining it and trying to come to terms with what happened can help them to move on. But some people don’t feel that their childhood was unhappy, but they subconsciously pick up messages from their families as a young child that can hamper their future development. This may be anything from sibling rivalry to parents who loved them a lot but appeared to always be working.

If the doctor cannot refer you to a counsellor it may be necessary to pay – for those who can’t afford it there are some organisations that accept minimal payment. For example if there are relationship issues you can go to Relate alone or as a couple and they ask for a fee if you can afford it.


See Relate:, 0845 456 1310 or Westminster Pastoral Foundation: 0207 361 4800

There are various types of therapy and more can be found out from the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy website, which also has a list of practitioners:

To find a counsellor go to The Counselling Directory:

Cognitive behaviour therapy

If the NHS starts to employ more counsellors it is likely that they will be providing Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) because it is particularly suitable for just several sessions.

CBT aims to examine unwanted and negative thoughts and beliefs, and looks at ways of changing behaviour or reactions to these. It is based on the belief that thoughts and behaviour patterns build up over a long period of time with roots in the past. Unlike other therapies it doesn’t go deeply into the past and is believed to work quicker – hence the interest from the Health Service.

CBT challenges the kind of thinking which keeps you stuck in destructive and negative behaviour patterns and uses techniques to uncover what is behind these.


British Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies, 01254 875277,

Nutrition helps to lift depression

The link between nutrition and depression is being increasingly recognised by nutritional experts and often it is found that simply taking sugar and wheat out of a diet can substantially improve mood. For instance, young people eat and drink so much sugar in sweets, processed foods and fizzy drinks that their blood sugar levels are fluctuating up and down – giving them instant highs and real slumps.

Similarly caffeine causes the release of dopamine which turns into adrenalin and noradrenalin in the body and makes you feel stimulated – people often talk about their caffeine fix. However, adrenalin causes glucose (blood sugar) to be released into the system stimulating mind and body similarly to sugar. A couple of hours later the slump has set in and it’s time for another cup of coffee, and so it goes on until someone feels unwell unless they are drinking coffee. Obviously alcohol induces the same problem.

A constant cycle of this kind of eating and drinking can make people more and more depressed. Not only are there foods which literally depress the body but there are also foods that cause natural highs – healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables, and there are a number of food supplements and herbs which raise mood without the side-effects of prescription drugs. For example the amino acid, Tryptophan, produces serotonin that is usually lacking in people who are depressed and occurs naturally in turkey, milk, cottage cheese, chicken, eggs, red meat and soya beans.

Herbal medicine and flower remedies

St John’s Wort has been proven in many studies to relieve symptoms of depression without side-effects, but it has to be avoided by pregnant women and should not be taken with prescription anti-depressants. Check with your GP if taking any other medication or if you are on the pill.

Passiflora is a herbal remedy that soothes anxiety without addiction or side-effects.

Flower remedies of all kinds can also be helpful – try Larch for lack of confidence, Oak for needing strength, Mimulus for fear.

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