Depression is a condition that is all too common in today’s world. It is a disorder that affects the mind as well as the physical body. In fact headache, backache or digestive upset can be common symptoms that are caused by depression.

Women are twice as likely to suffer from depression as men and depression is said to affect approximately 10 percent of the US population every year. Children and adolescents also suffer from depression, and studies show that childhood depression is a predictor of more severe illnesses later in life.

There are six main types of depression. These include: Major Depression, Dysthymia, Adjustment disorders, Bipolar disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and Postpartum depression. The focus of this article is on major depression.

According to the American psychological association, major depression can be defined as:
… a mood disorder characterized by one or more major depressive episodes (i.e., at least two weeks of depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in nearly all activities) accompanied by at least four additional symptoms such as changes in sleep, appetite, or weight, and psychomotor activity; decreased energy; feelings of worthlessness or guilt; difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions; or recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation, plans, or attempts

The Conventional Approach

The conventional treatment for depression is the use of anti-depressants. There are five main classes of antidepressants, SSRIs, SNRIs, TCAs, MAOIs, and atypical antidepressants.

Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most popular class of antidepressants. They work by blocking the reuptake of serotonin, the neurotransmitter in the brain that gives one the sensation of well-being.

Selective Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) work by increasing the amounts of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain to improve energy and mood.

Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs) is an older group of drugs which are also used to treat obsessive compulsive disorders, panic attacks, ADHD, and PTSD. These drugs work by increasing norepinehprine in the brain.
Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) also increase norepinhephrine in the brain by inhibiting the enzyme monoamine oxidase.

Atypical antidepressants have different mechanisms of action. Bupropion (Wellbutrin) inhibits the reuptake of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. Nefazodone (Serzone) and Venlafaxine (Effexor) both increase the brain’s levels of serotonin and norepinephinre. Trazodone (Desyrl) is still not fully understood, but most likely works by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin.

Due to the fact that SSRIs generally have fewer side effects than TCAs and MAOIS, they tend to be the first choice for pharmaceutical treatment. SSRIs also do not interact with tyramine found in certain foods and do not cause blood pressure fluctations and arrthymias as TCAs do. However, one caution with SSRIs is that their use can cause serotonergic syndrome. This is a condition which consists of a high fever, seizure, and heart problems.

In summary, all of these drugs work through influencing the chemical messengers in the brain, mostly serotonin but also NE, GABA, and others. They do take time to become effective. Serious side effects and nutrient depletions occur with each of these classes of drugs. The most severe side effect, in which there are mandatory governmental warnings about, are possible increases in suicidal tendencies with these medications. In today’s world, such drastic measures may be necessary, but it is best to rule out all other issues before using medication and to seek professional guidance from a trained psychiatrist if you choose to do so.

A Naturopathic Integrated Approach

A licensed Naturopathic Doctor, who is trained in both conventional and holistic approaches, will look for specific nutrient depletions to look for from each drug and how to correct these imbalances and decrease side effects if a medication is being used. Naturopaths will also work with each client in order to address the cause of the symptoms and look for underlying system imbalances.

It is important to rule out all physical causes of mood deregulation such as thyroid conditions, endocrine dysfunctions, adrenal insufficiency, blood sugar handling problems, and iodine deficiency before resorting to more drastic levels. Hormonal imbalances can cause many changes in emotional status because they play an important function as chemical messengers in the body. Therefore, they can effect the brain’s levels of neurotransmitters.

By addressing the underlying hormonal issue and supporting the organ or gland dysfunction with nutrition, medicinal essential oils and herbals, many women have noticed significant changes in their emotional well-being. I have particularly noticed a correlation between low thyroid function and depressive mood types with my clients.

Another cause of depression could be from decreased blood oxygenation to the brain, causing an imbalance in the brain chemistry. This can be due to the unnatural chemicals and toxins which are more prevalent in everyday living. Some therapeutic grade essential oils such as Cedarwood, Frankincense, and Lavender have been shown to increase oxygenation to the brain through chemical constituents called sesquiterpenes.

Mind-body medicine is helpful to include in all cases. People today are overworked, over-stressed and tend to de-value themselves. Mindfulness and the ability to feel the emotion, rather than suppress it, can be of great value. There are also various individualized relaxation and stress-reducing techniques I implement in my practice that help people deal with everyday stressors or relationship issues.

In some cases, there are clients who have asked for “a buffer,” during times of transition periods. If they aren’t on any prescription medications, standardized St. John’s Wort, which has been shown through the Cochrane Database, to be just as effective for mild depression as antidepressant drug therapy, is my first choice. However, it reacts with many medications so it should be monitored by a health care professional. SAMe, 5HTP, Fish oil, and B vitamins can also be useful recommendations for mood disturbances.

In the holistic approach to wellness, emotions affect every aspect of the person’s life, including their physical well-being, spirituality and relationships with others. In today’s world, it is very common to feel alone and isolated. Depression can tend to make one isolate even more, which only compounds the intensity of these sometimes overwhelming feelings. Reaching out for support is a sign of strength and empowerment.

Your physician and holistic health practitioner can work together to get to the cause of your mood disturbances in order to allow you to live a healthy, happier life. Feeling good is everyone’s birthright!


Balch, J, Stengler & Balch, R. Prescription for Drug Alternatives. Depression Drugs. 2008. Pg 160-176.

APA online: 12/30/2008 accessed