Could hypnosis be more effective than drugs for depression?
In light of new evidence on SSRIs, perhaps its time for less of a “quick fix” approach.
SSRIs for depression are now being strongly debated. Not only may they not be effective, they may even make depression worse, according to recent research.1 New types of medications are in development, but are years away. If you’ve been taking SSRIs for depression but haven’t been satisfied with the results, you may be one of the people for whom SSRIs simply are not the right solution.
At present, over 10% of people over the age of 12 in the United States take some type of antidepressant, and depression is the number one cause of medical disability in both the United States and Canada.
Previous assumptions prove wrong
For over 50 years SSRIs have been the go-to answer for people with depression. The logic behind SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) has been that people with chronic depression have a chemical imbalance that creates a low level of serotonin (a neurotransmitter). However, a recent study n the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews claims that the entire theory behind the usage of SSRI’s is completely backwards, even going as far as to suggest that SSRI’s actually make overcoming depression more difficult, especially in the first weeks of taking antidepressants.
“Those serotonin-boosting medications actually make it harder for patients to recover, especially in the short term, says lead author Paul Andrews, an assistant professor of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour at McMaster.1
This is because research now shows that the brains of depressed people actually produce more serotonin, not less. Essentially, people who manage to recover from depression while taking SSRIs do so despite the medication, not because of it, says Andrews.
According to the new research, the higher levels of serotonin in the brains of depressed people are a response to a perceived problem situation and is produced to help focus people’s minds on conscious thought, to look for a way out of the problem.
At the same time serotonin may reduce the drive to grow and develop until the current problem is solved or overcome. This could explain why depressed people typically show less interest in the outside world and become very inward looking.
“It’s time we rethink what we are doing. We are taking people who are suffering from the most common forms of depression, and instead of helping them, it appears we are putting an obstacle in their path to recovery.” ~ Dr. Paul Andrews
Questions about SSRIs have been growing for several years
This is not the first nail in the coffin for SSRIs. Research in 2008 concluded that the effects of SSRIs were “clinical insignificant” for most people.2 According to this study the effectiveness of SSRIs were found:
- Mild depression: not tested as mild depression is usually treated with a ‘talk therapy’ rather than antidepressants.
- Moderate depression: antidepressants made “virtually no difference”.
- Severe depression: antidepressants had a “small and clinically insignificant” effect.
- Most severe depression: when the placebo effect was regressed out for all groups, this group also showed a “small and clinically insignificant” effect.
Combine all of this with numerous studies showing an increased risk of suicide in people taking SSRIs, and clearly it’s time for a new solution. New medications that focus on the brain’s NMDA receptors show promise3, but won’t be on the market for some time. While they seem to quickly relieve depressive symptoms, the medications also create a hallucinatory effect, and work continues to develop a formula that provides the anti-depressant effect without the undesired hallucinatory effects. [Please note: if you’re reading this and thinking it is time to get off your SSRIs, be sure to do so under a doctor’s guidance.]
Clearly, it’s time for a different approach
For over 50 years now, we’ve been offered a “fast-food” solution to depression: take a pill and (hopefully) feel better. Regardless of whether or not new and better medicines are on the horizon, I would ask you to consider, has the instant gratification approach been part of the problem? Numerous studies over more than 25 years show the real effectiveness of more life-style based solutions (which also have no negative side effects). Exercise, better sleep, learning to control and change thinking patterns and the powerful effects of meditation and hypnosis on the body’s neurotransmitter balance point to the advantages of a “skills not pills” approach.
Consider the following natural remedies for depression:
A new review of 26 years of research finds that exercise not only makes you feel better in the short term, but has long term effects in preventing depression. 4
Did you know that many neurotransmitters are produced not in your brain, but in your intestines? In fact, the gut is now being called “the second brain.” Several studies now show that improved gut health improves both depression and anxiety (take your probiotics!)5 So eat healthy and take care of your digestive system.
Stick to a routine
The nature of depression is to pull you out of your routine-and research shows that keeping a routine is highly beneficial in reducing the impact of depression. So, while it may feel challenging, let the rewards motivate you to continue to keep a schedule and feel productive.
Set and achieve goals
Routine is related to having goals, and setting and achieving goals is also an important step to take to defeat depression. This is effective because one of the basic human needs is to feel that we are accomplishing things and moving forward. Without goals, we begin to feel less worthwhile which just feeds into depression. While you’re depressed may not be the time to tackle major goals, but setting a routine and setting daily goals that you can accomplish will go a long way toward shortening and lightening the depression, according to studies.
“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” – Dale Carnegie
Get a good night’s sleep
Getting the right amount of sleep helps improve depression. Depression and sleep are intricately interlinked. About 75% of depressed people also have insomnia.6
Because of the effect on the brain’s energy stores, disturbances in sleep can mimic and contribute to depression. Poor sleep can even mask an improvement in depression, making it difficult to tell where one issue ends and the other begins. Because the brain runs on glucose, poor sleep, especially chronic poor sleep, creates a cognitive experience that is very similar to anxious depression – emotions at the surface, low tolerance, inability to focus, low energy. Some researchers wonder in some cases of depression which comes first-the insomnia or the depression?
Take on responsibilities
Similar to setting goals, taking on responsibilities appeals to the basic needs of the human mind. While setting goals may be only self-focused, taking on responsibilities is other-focused, and keeps us connected to community, which is critical for people with depression. So, while once again this may not be the time for big responsibilities, make (and keep) commitments to others to stay connected and feel valuable.
Challenge negative thoughts
Negative thoughts can take on a life of their own, and keep you stuck in unresourceful states. Thought patterns are behaviors, and we fall into habits with our thought behaviors just like any other behavior. Fortunately, there are effective ways to break those negative thought patterns. I just happen to have written a whole article about it right here: eliminate negative thoughts article.
Do something new
New, or “novel” experiences in psychological terms, stimulate the production of feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine. This chemical rush makes us feel vital, vibrant and alive. Being curious, learning and staying stimulated by our environment is an important factor in not only depression but in aging as well. Depressed people tend to get into a rut, doing the same things over and over, and withdrawing from new experiences. I’ve talked to many people who said that, even though their initial inclination was to stay home, when they allowed themselves to be drawn out into a fun, new experience by friends or families, it did in fact improve their mood and had lingering positive effects when they remembered it (studies also show that spending time thinking of positive memories has beneficial effects on mood and depression.7 So go out and do something new! See a new movie, take a class, even plan a trip. Your neurotransmitters will thank you.
Try meditation or hypnosis
Generations of meditation devotees attest to the positive mood-moderating effects of meditation. Self hypnosis provides similar benefits and effects, and both of these modalities are gaining new attention in research studies.
A 2009 study showed that a self hypnosis protocol had clinically significant positive effects on depressed participants. Note: I think it’s just as significant that, out of 58 study participants, 50 opted in for self hypnosis and only 4 chose antidepressants. The other 4 participants were randomized between the methods. It seems like people are waking up to the benefits of taking an active and involved approach to managing depression.8
A 2014 meta study shows that meditation also offers improvement for symptoms of depression and anxiety (small to moderate improvement was shown).9 In addition, he majority of participants who complete a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, which teaches mindfulness meditation, report significant decreases in both physical and psychological symptoms, as well as improved ability to relax and deal with short and long term stressful situations. In addition to these reductions in symptoms, participants report a number of positive changes in their lifestyles and coping. Combined, these additional benefits of adopting a meditative practice could have further positive effects on depression both in the short term and in reducing the recurrence of depression.
Where do we go from here?
I simply have to add that not only do all of these natural remedies for depression show clear evidence of effectiveness, not one of them creates a negative side effect. These are active approaches, skills if you like, that ask you for active participation and yes, some time and effort. But it seems that anti-depressants are just another example of “if it seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t.” We can’t passively take a pill and expect our lives to easily and effortlessly become what we would like. But that is GOOD news! Because one of the most important human needs is the need to feel “at cause” in our own lives–like our actions can have an effect. In another article, I expressed my concern for the subtext message in handing out a pill for conditions like depression and anxiety, that message being that “there is something wrong with you that you can’t solve yourself. You need something external to be well.” Whether you’re consciously aware of it or not, your subconscious mind is aware of the implications of seeing pills as they only way, and that can create a limiting belief that perpetuates the very symptoms you’re trying to be free of.
“With responsibility comes the potential for freedom.” ~ Cindy Locher
In a world that is increasingly complex and challenging, depression is not going away. It’s time for a new view of depression and a new approach. Seeing depression as a natural, solutions-focused adaptation to give us the time and the kind of introspective focus needed to uncover and solve an unresolved issue is a positive step away from the old paradigm of depression as illness. I would encourage turning to a “skills-not-pills” approach which is in alignment with the six human needs: certainty; variety; significance; connection & love; growth; and contribution.
 – http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150217114119.htm
 Kirsch, I., Deacon, B. J., Huedo-Medina, T. B., Scoboria, A., Moore, T. J., & Johnson, B. T. (2008). Initial severity and antidepressant benefits: a meta-analysis of data submitted to the food and drug administration, PLoS Medicine, 5(2), e45 EP
 Turner, E. H., Matthews, A. M., Linardatos, E., Tell, R. A., & Rosenthal, R. (2008). Selective publication of antidepressant trials and its influence on apparent efficacy, New England Journal of Medicine, 358(3), 252-260.