And we're talking about a disorder that robs people of their energy, their sleep, their memory, their concentration, their ability to love and work and play. It robs over 500,000 people each year of their very lives (via depression-linked suicide).
Bizarrely, the depression epidemic keeps getting worse, despite the fact that antidepressant use has gone up over 400% in the past two decades (150 million antidepressant prescriptions are written each year in the U.S. alone). The rate of depression in the U.S. is now 10 times higher than it was in the 1940s, before the advent of antidepressants. (And, no, this is not merely an artifact of greater public awareness or people's willingness to admit their symptoms; it's a genuine scientific finding.)
What's going on? I believe the answer lies in the fact that we were never designed for the modern sedentary, socially isolated, sleep-deprived, fast food-laden, indoor, frenetic pace of modern life. In fact, because the vast majority of human history was lived out in a hunter-gatherer context, it appears that humans are best adapted to that ancient way of life. There are many features of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle that - according to the best available research - confer powerful protective benefit against the experience of depression: abundant exercise, ample dietary omega-3 fatty acids, extensive social support and connectedness, sunlight exposure, 8+ hours of sleep each night, and engaging activity that prevents against the psychologically toxic process of rumination (i.e., dwelling on negative thoughts).
These antidepressant lifestyle elements not only fight depression, but they are capable of changing the brain as effectively as any medication.
Over the past few years, clinical research group of Dr. Steve Ilardi (aka, Psych Pundit) at the University of Kansas has worked hard to help depressed patients find a lasting cure by reclaiming these protective lifestyle elements from the past. We call the approach Therapeutic Lifestyle Change (TLC) for Depression. The preliminary results thus far (to be presented at next month's ABCT Conference in Philadelphia) have been enormously encouraging: 76% of TLC patients have experienced a favorable treatment response, in comparison with only 27% of patients on a waitlist who received 'treatment as usual' (mostly meds or therapy) in the community.
This work has recently received considerable attention in the national press, including an in-depth story in the November/December issue of AARP Magazine (readership: 30 million). As a clinical researcher, of course, I am eager to see the results of this work published in a peer-reviewed journal, and my research team currently has 4 articles at various stages in the publication pipeline.
In upcoming posts, I'll plan to give more details about the treatment program, as well as updates about scholarly publication as they become available.