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Life and Death Habits: What Your Depression Needs You to Do Today

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Life and Death Habits: What Your Depression Needs You to Do absolutimages/Fotolia

A lifelong sufferer of depression, I want depressed people to get well however they can. I am not anti-med. But being on meds requires managing the side effects of those meds.

There is no medication without a side effect, and the trick is finding the side effects you can live with.

I spent 10 years on psychiatric meds, switching from one to another, finding one that worked well for years, and that was still working well when a dangerous rash developed on my hand and I was forced to titrate off.

One prescription caused restless leg syndrome, a feeling akin to having a thousand angry wolverines trying to bust out below my knees. Already “fluffy,” I refused to take drugs that caused weight gain. Most do.

Another drug seemed to stabilize me and make me thin ... but also stupid, hence it’s local nickname, the “Scottsdale drug.”

One little pill left me wracked with stomach cramps and a night of violent vomiting, when I thought with every heave, “Holy shit. I voluntarily poisoned myself.”

A blue capsule made my heart race, had among its possible side effects “sudden death,” and offered the bizarre side effect that if I fell asleep, I was home-free for eight hours, but if I happened to wake while drifting off — a dog barked, a car door slammed — I would be awake for the night.

Friends became alarmed when one med caused me to speak and move in slow motion. Mental dullness and forgetfulness were the side effects to which I finally acquiesced, and my time with the drug that caused them was the longest.

I’ve now been three years off meds. I still get depressed, but I got depressed on meds.

Suicidal thoughts creep in, but they did so on meds as well. Now I take my lifestyle habits extremely seriously.

When it comes to mental health, our habits matter.

Listen to your doctor. Take your meds. Don’t change your meds without medical supervision. But get your act together outside the doctor’s office as well.

Cognitive Therapy

All the meds in the world won’t help if your own thinking is against you. Cognitive therapy is based on the premise that our thinking affects our well-being.

People with depression often have a thinking problem, including inaccurate thoughts about themselves and distorted interpretations of social situations.(1)

A therapist specializing in cognitive therapy will help you detect unhealthy thinking patterns, and challenge you to restructure your thoughts.

Research has shown cognitive therapy can be just as effective as medication in the long-term treatment of depression.(1)

Sunshine and Vitamin D

Get outside and get some sun. In high latitudes, use a full-spectrum light. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with active mood disorders.

Light therapy has been shown to decrease symptoms in people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD).(2)

Take Vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D supplementation has also been shown to improve symptoms of depression. (2)


In a study reported by Harvard Medical School, 156 people with depression were divided into three groups. One group took an SSRI antidepressant, one group exercised, and the third group did both. After 16 weeks, depression had eased in all three groups.(3)

While the group taking antidepressants responded most quickly, 60-70 percent of people in all groups could no longer be classified as having depression.

A follow-up study of 133 of the same people six months later found that those who exercised regularly, no matter which group they were in, had the least incidence of relapse.(3)

Analysis of the study concluded, “for those who need or wish to avoid drugs, exercise might be an acceptable substitute for antidepressants.”(3)

Take Your Lifestyle Seriously

I don’t miss the constant dog-and-pony show of my body responding to side effects, or the brain-bending, overstretched rubber-band-feeling of changing from one medication to another. But my daily choices have become paramount.

I really, really, have to play tennis, see the sun in summer, and spend time hugging my Happy Light® in winter, and I’m thinking about making a cognitive therapy appointment right this minute.

Don’t use this article to blow off a medication regimen that is working for you. But if it’s not working as well as it should, look at your lifestyle habits and talk to your doctor.

Depression can be a matter of life and death. Change your lifestyle to that end.

Reviewed July 19, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

1) About Cognitive Psychotherapy. PsychCentral.com. Retrieved July 19, 2016.

2) Vitamin D and Depression: Where is all the Sunshine? NIH.gov. Retrieved July 19, 2016.

3) Exercise and Depression. harvard.edu. Retrieved July 19, 2016.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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