I wanted to share something that might be a little “out there” with you about one of my views about depression and mental illness. One view I have is modeled after the “western” or “scientific” view that mental illness is a biochemical imbalance in the brain and if you give the body what it needs – ie neurotransmitter balancing of dopamine, norepinephrine, GABA, epinephrine, serotonin (via antidepressants and other drugs (pharmaceutical route) or niacin/folic acid/B6/tryptophan/EFA therapy (orthomolecular route)) – you will improve the patients mental state. In my practice, I have seen this with every patient I treat that has an imbalance in the mental realm as there is no denying the physical and causal connection of neurotransmitters and one’s mood state.
On the other hand, my “out-there” view is depression is a way by which our spirit is trying to get our attention because some aspect of our life (be it school, our direction, job, a relationship) is not moving in concert with our spirit or divine plan – we are moving west and our spirit is trying to get us to go north…so by looking at ourselves and taking the time to be silent, talk to others, open up about what we are feeling etc, we can address the underlying root of depression, anxiety, addiction, etc. Others believe that there is some underlying event that may have happened years ago (ie adoption, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, etc..) but I don’t think this is always the case. You don’t always need a reason to be depressed (hence the biochemical view).
Personally, I feel and have witnessed in my own life as well as the lives of my patients that there are ten levels of healing as I discuss in my book: Beyond the Label: 10 Steps to Improve your Mental Health with Naturopathic Medicine.
Outlined below, is a discussion from the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine
regarding one of these levels of healing:
“in the process of healing we must first seek, then remove the cause. As the cause of illness is removed the natural tendency of the body is to improve function. The human being is not simply a physical entity. We have minds, we think. We have emotions, we feel and we translate these feelings into meaning. We are spiritual beings. Most of the early naturopathic writers, such as Lindlahr, Lust and Hahnemann, believed that illness began in the spiritual aspect of the person. I share this belief. Most of our education and therapeutic focus is on the physical aspect of the human being. It is crucial, in my opinion, that we direct more attention to the spiritual aspect. I believe we will see much more attention given to this area by our profession over the next few years. …….Causes of disease manifest in four groups or levels: spiritual, mental, emotional and physical. Of these four aspects, the spirit is the center; the next layer is the mental aspect of the person, then the emotions and the outermost layer is the physical. If there is a distortion on the spiritual level, it will create distortion through the system, like ripples from a stone thrown into a pond.
The knowledge of this spiritual aspect of reality is not well developed in our culture. We have no common language to discuss it. As a profession we acknowledge the existence of a spiritual aspect of the person, but do not teach a methodology to work with it. I believe that this is a peculiar phenomenon in our American culture, with our freedom of religion (or freedom from religion). Our profession must develop a language with which to discuss the spiritual aspect of healing without reference to religion.
For now, it is incumbent upon us as naturopathic physicians to acknowledge and to work in our own ways to recognize and pursue healing in this aspect of our patients’ lives. We can discuss with patients the presence of peace and trust in their lives, their spiritual practice, or absence of it and our perceptions of their health or happiness in these regards. This requires that we pursue our own personal spiritual development.
When a person refuses, or is unable to take those steps which can lead to healing from a crippling or terminal illness, this may be primarily a spiritual issue. The extent to which we can successfully address this, and to which the person can accept change on a spiritual level, will determine whether healing can occur. Illness is a great teacher. Death is not defeat.
It is neither our responsibility nor prerogative to prevent death or heal illness. It is our privilege and responsibility to work with the vis medicatrix and assist our patients in their healing process.
If one continually throws garbage out the kitchen window, there will eventually be flies to contend with. One can deal with the flies by spraying poison on them, and even spray the garbage pile itself. This is like using antibiotics or antidepressants. Or, one can clean up the garbage. Not only will the flies go away, but the kitchen will smell better. This is the naturopathic approach. Clean up the garbage. If you do, the flies won’t come back when the poison wears off. And the flies won’t build up a resistance to poison either.”