Why Do Some People Prefer “Natural” Treatment for Depression?

In the Tyrol – 1904 by John Singer Sargent

Since I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, several people have suggested bee stings as an alternative treatment to the interferon beta shot I do once a week. The first time a helpful soul suggested it, I was stupefied for a minute. I mean, honestly. How is being stung by bees preferable in any way to medication? Granted, my interferon medicine does have side effects, but what would make anyone think bee stings are free from side effects? I’ve had allergic reactions to stinging insects in the past, for one thing, and there’s a reason that many people carry epi-pens to counteract bee stings. I’m wondering if somehow the potential throat-closing-up-lack-of-breathing is seen as inconsequential compared to medication side effects by the people who suggest the bee sting regimen. For some inexplicable (at least, to me) reason, some people think that if a treatment is natural, it is always superior to one developed in a lab. For me, this is a head-scratcher. Natural is not even safe in every situation, let alone superior. Digitalis, which is derived from foxglove, is used to treat heart conditions, but do you know any cardiac patients who grow the plant and just clip some off when they’re in distress? No, of course not, or at least I hope not. They use pills that are prescribed for the condition, as the level of digitalis in them is safe.

Several things concern me about natural treatment for depression. One is that I feel some people, by using natural methods, are taking that route because they haven’t dealt with the reality of having a mental illness. If you’re taking a supplement or herb instead of an antidepressant, you can keep telling yourself that you are not suffering from an illness, because you’re not taking medication. It supports the illusion that depression isn’t an illness. I’m sorry, but especially if you’re talking about severe levels of depression, that just isn’t the case.

The second thing that worries me about people with depression choosing the natural treatment route is that they often don’t see a doctor at all. Clinical depression can be caused by medical conditions such as a malfunctioning thyroid. When you talk to your doctor about experiencing depression, as part of the diagnosis he or she will first rule out these medical conditions. If your depression is caused by an underlying medical condition and you choose to self-medicate instead of getting checked out by your doctor, it’s likely that these conditions, which could be dangerous, will not be detected.

In addition, I have yet to hear of a natural treatment for clinical depression that has been proven to be both safe and effective. The only one that comes even close is St. John’s wort, but not if you have major depression. According to the National Institutes of Health, while there is some scientific evidence that St. John’s wort can be useful in treating mild to moderate depression, two major studies have show that it is no more effective than a placebo in treating major depression.

Now, before you jump on me for being a drug pusher for the pharmaceutical companies whose mind is completely closed to alternative treatments, keep reading. For one thing, I did take a natural supplement for my depression for a year. It was before I was actually diagnosed with my depression. I thought I had severe PMS, and followed a course of treatment using large doses of L-Tryptophan. It actually did improve my depression during the year I was on it.

The reason I went off it? A tainted batch of L-Tryptophan caused a rare disease in a few individuals and L-Tryptophan was pulled off the market. So in this case, the natural treatment was effective for me, but since supplements are not regulated, it can’t be considered completely safe. I personally would rather deal with side effects from antidepressants than contract a rare incurable disease. But maybe that’s just me.

Yes, the pharmaceutical companies exist solely to make a buck and they’re often too aggressive, as well as deceptive, in marketing their products. But seriously, can anyone say with a straight face that supplement makers are not out to make a buck and are never deceptive? Also, I want to make it clear that my attitude towards depression treatment has changed in the nearly twenty years since I was diagnosed. Initially, my life was so transformed by antidepressants that I advocated that treatment above others. Now, for several reasons, I support a more holistic approach to treatment.

So with that said, I’ll end with the aspect of natural treatment for depression that confounds me completely. I cannot understand the mindset of people who refuse to take antidepressants when they’re severely depressed and have tried everything natural, without success. Many of these people wouldn’t even think of using a natural treatment for diseases like cancer or diabetes, because they know they’re gambling with their lives.

Guess what? Depression is a potentially fatal disease. If you’re suicidal and taking it upon yourself to treat your depression with unproven natural treatments, then you’re still gambling with your life. Get over your squeamishness about conventional depression treatment and call a doctor. Conventional treatment may not be perfect, but if you’ve tried the natural route and it isn’t working, ask yourself why you are so reluctant to give it a shot.

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1 Comment

  1. (TW – talk of suicide) I would be dead if not for marijuana. I would be dead if I was still given pharmaceuticals to treat my depression and suicidal tendencies that I have exhibited for almost 20 years. Because even though I attempted suicide 3 separate times with the pharmaceuticals I was given, the doctors kept giving me little parcels of poison. Eventually I said enough, I know myself better than these doctors who apparently cannot connect the dots that a person, who has tried 3 separate times to kill themselves with doctor prescribed pharmaceuticals, should not be given more pills! Depression IS a potentially fatal disease and giving someone with suicidal tendencies the tools to commit suicide is not always wise. True, not everyone harms or attempts with pills. And not everyone with depression has or will develop suicidal tendencies (for me they go hand in hand). But the fact is that strong psychiatric medications can do a lot of harm to one’s body, and as far as my experience with depression and suicidal tendencies go if I go see a doctor for a high strength pill, I am determined to hurt myself. (I am on a low level SSRI currently, after trying so many psych meds the past 15 years I cannot remember them all). Marijuana has been the only medication I can use without the fear of overdose or the desire to harm myself. Thankfully I live in a state with a medical marijuana program, I know that without it I would have finally succeeded in killing myself a few years ago. A patient should have the right to decide the best form of treatment for themselves whether it comes from a lab or from the soil, and also not feel shamed for trying out different methods of treatment. For me, it’s cannabis.

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