Depression: a mental condition characterized by feelings of severe despondency and dejection, typically also with feelings of inadequacy and guilt, often accompanied by lack of energy and disturbance of appetite and sleep.
In mainstream medicine there are 6 types of depression: clinical, chronic, atypical, manic, seasonal, and psychotic. Antidepressants are often the first treatment option prescribed yet they only effective in around one third of cases, and partially effective in another third. The other third of cases get no benefit at all.
From a complementary therapist’s point of view, having seen many cases of depression come through my clinic door, there can never be a “one size fits all” treatment that cures depression. Every person is unique and what works for one person might not work for another. Inspired by a conversation with an acupuncture colleague of mine a few days ago, I thought it’d be useful to have another kind of diagnosis window for depression: one offered by the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, water).
There is so much good information on the web (I love google), but below I’ve summarised what I have found in my research as ways to help yourself at home if you are struggling with depression. Please note that this information is not meant to take the place of valued guidance from your healthcare practitioner. It is merely additional resources to supplement you in your journey of depression.
So what type of depressed are you and what can you do to help yourself, in addition to any current support you are getting?
Many thanks to Sarah Attwell-Griffiths for inspiring me to research this! You can find out more about her at Corinium Acupuncture.
“Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about, but also our very capacity to think.”
The human brain is a social organ that is shaped by experience; it's a profoundly relational part of our body, especially in the formative years. So childhood trauma literally shapes your brain for the rest of your life...
Childhood abuse has been shown to specifically effect
i) Ventral pre frontal cortex - the part of the brain that allows you to observe yourself, where you know what's going on inside of you. In effect, it is our watchtower.
ii) Orbitel pre frontal cortex - the part of your brain that helps you not to become impulsive.
iii) Amygdala- the smoke detector of the brain that tells you what is dangerous and what is safe. It knows nothing about reasoning or cognitive functions. It deals with feelings and emotions.
iv) Dorsolateral cortex – the part of the brain that gives you the capacity to see yourself over time, combining past with the future.
v) Precuneus - the part of your brain that worries about yourself.
vi) Anterior cingulate - the part of the brain that filters out irrelevant information.
In a healthy developmental environment, your brain gets to feel a sense of pleasure, engagement, and exploration. Your brain opens up to learn, to see things, to accumulate information, to form friendships. If as a child you are frightened and unwanted, your brain specialises in managing feelings of fear and abandonment.
Trauma is thus a kinesthetic experience; it is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body. It as an illness of not being alive in the present as this imprint has ongoing consequences for how we manage to survive in the present. Trauma creates chaos in our brain.
Once traumatised a person perceives the world differently so the question to therapists is how do we assist our clients to heal their nervous systems so that their perception of danger or safety is more accurate?
It is very interesting that mindfulness increases activation of the medial prefrontal cortex and decreases activation of structures like the amygdala that trigger our emotional responses. This increases our control over the emotional brain and is one way we can start to utilise the neuro-plasticity of our brains for our benefit.
There is still much being learnt in this area, but to me anything that makes a person feel safer in the present moment (breath, body work, nature, stillness) will go a long way towards helping to antidote the physiological impacts of childhood trauma on our brains. We can rewire, it is just going to take time, patience and space...
Consciousness is at once familiar to us all, and deeply mysterious. It is defined as ‘the state of being aware of and responsive to one's surroundings’ and ‘a person's awareness or perception of something’. There are many unanswered questions around consciousness yet there is still currently an accepted belief that babies grow into consciousness towards the end of their first year. What if we are so wrong with this belief? How well do we really understand the early experience of life from a baby’s point of view?
At a recent seminar Dr Wendy Anne McCarty talked about how babies have dual perspectives of awareness: transcendent and human. By transcendent, she was referring to the non local time, the awareness of self that functions outside of time and space. New clinical research findings from Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology (PPN) reveal that our earliest experiences in the womb can profoundly shape and set in motion physical, mental, emotional and relational life patterns that can be positive or negative. Indeed the research shows that we are conscious and aware from the very beginning of life...
Yet we do not often meet babies at that level (either as parents or therapists) - the transcendent self of the baby is disregarded and not seen. As a result we miss the chance of intentional and meaningful telepathy, for a multi-dimensional relationship – an intimate dance with each other.
Babies are so eager for us to develop our understanding of who they are. From the very beginning, they are seeking validation, heartfelt connection, love, safety (babies have an innate need for safety) and social engagement. They need to be heard on every level and to be listened to for then their life experience is affirmed.
So what can we do as parents and therapists to better understand the early experience of life from a baby’s perspective? How do we step into this expanded lens when we may not even hold that lens ourselves yet? This is the key question that has me pondering since Dr McCarty’s seminar and its answer feels rich and varied –here are some of the threads that resonate with me so far:
The more able we are to tune into our own internal states and respond accordingly, the more able we will be able to tune into the baby’s internal states and respond accordingly. When life is so busy, this is not an easy task – so mindfulness, breath, taking time to be in nature, all are ways to be more attentive to what our internal landscape is currently showing. And this will be resonant with the transcendent self of the baby.
Self-regulation (calming ourselves down from the emotional highwire) is our safety net – and is one we need to learn to offer the newborn infant, helping her to learn how to handle ever-increasing intensity of stimulation and building resilience/emotional tolerance. Giving space for the baby to calm down, allowing the pauses between stimulation for her system to reset – all of these add up to the safety net we can offer: a much needed thing in this world.
Finally, it feels important to let the baby take the lead so we follow their own spontaneous expression of self. I love the idea of a ‘love loop’, where the loving gaze of parent to child is reciprocated by the baby with a loving gaze back to the parents, causing their endorphin levels to rise, thus completing a closed emotional circuit. This is truly a dynamic, interactive system.
I believe that every child should be held in sacred trust, and I feel that the more we attune ourselves to the human and transcendental planes, the more we are able to offer ourselves and the next generations.