It Takes More Than a Pill to Heal From Depression

Douglas Bloch
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“To optimize the function of the healing system, you must do everything in your power to improve physical health, mental/emotional health, and spiritual health… One must see the whole picture of health, and understand the importance of working on all fronts.”
Andrew Weil, Eight Weeks to Optimal Health

In the winter of 1996-97, I found myself in the midst of an episode of major depression. I was assailed by out-of-control anxiety attacks which alternated with dark, suicidal depressions. Each day felt like an eternity as I struggled to stay alive in the face of overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and despair.

Even though my agitated depression had been triggered by an adverse reaction to an antidepressant, I decided to seek psychiatric help in the hopes that the right medication might reverse the harm caused by the wrong medication. For the next nine months I met with a variety of psychiatrists who worked in locations that ranged from the local medical school to community mental health centers.  Despite the wide array of their professional habitats, each doctor followed more or less the same procedure.

After listening to my symptoms for fifteen to twenty minutes, the psychiatrist would hang a dartboard on the wall whose face was divided into six regions–the red represented Prozac, the orange Zoloft, the yellow Paxil, the green Celexa, the blue Lexapro and the purple was Effexor. Then he threw a dart at the dartboard and wherever it landed, that was the medication I would take.

This, of course, is a metaphor for the way in which medications are randomly chosen. I could not fault the psychiatrists for this methodology, as this trial and error approach was the best that science had to offer. One psychiatrist was quite honest with me when he said, “We really don’t know how a person will react until he takes the drug. You’re all a bunch of guinea pigs.”

In addition to this trial and error approach, the other aspect of the sessions that concerned me was the medicalization of my illness. At no time did any of the doctors ask about my life as a whole–i.e., “How is your social support?” “Are you exercising?” “How do you see this episode spiritually?” I find this fascinating because the Greek roots of the word psychiatrist mean “healer of the soul.” When I saw my first shrink in 1968,  he explored my unconscious through dreams and free association and asked me about my family upbringing–in other words, he did therapy.  Now psychiatric treatment is primarily concerned with finding the right drug for an imbalanced brain. The doctor-healer has become the pharmacologist.

Unfortunately, despite trying one antidepressant after another, I experienced none of the hoped-for relief. Often, the drugs made me more agitated, further exacerbating my existing anxiety. Thus, I was eventually diagnosed with “treatment resistant depression.”

However, even if I had found the right medication, it would not have been enough. The mind and brain are far too complex to be regulated by a single chemical. Those who rely solely on medication can experience “Prozac poop-out,” where the medication stops working for no apparent reason.

In other cases, a person goes off an antidepressant, has a return of symptoms, and then goes back on the medication only to find that it does not work the second time. Only in the Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World does a single substance, SOMA, induce happiness each and every time it is ingested. Yet Huxley viewed this pill-popping of society as a dystopia, one that replaced self-knowledge and self-awareness with mindless bliss.

The reason that medications alone will never be enough to treat depression is that depression has biological, psychological, social, and spiritual dimensions and thus must also be treated on all of these levels. This realization lead me to create a five part “brain wellness plan” which consists of physical self-care, mental-emotional self-care, social support, spiritual connection, and lifestyle habits.

In working with my clients, I have observed that those individuals who incorporate two or more of these modalities into their lives recover sooner and have fewer relapses than those who rely on medication alone.

This holistic approach is not confined to mood disorders. Dr. Dean Ornish, the first person to show that heart disease could be reversed through diet, also prescribes daily exercise, meditation, participating in support groups and stress management to his patients. We are multi-dimensional beings, and only a multi-modal approach to treatment can bring the healing of body, mind, and soul that we desire.

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Why does MIA keep letting people post here when they are just plugging their own scams. This is the second guy by my count who is doing this here now. There probably isn’t any one group of people that are taken less seriously than the “Go from zero to hero: Improve your love life in 5 easy steps!”, “Taking back your life: The 5 part plan to overcoming depression!” crowd. Let me guess: I can attend this guys seminar at an airport somewhere?

    What next? Are you going to invite evangelists to the site for their contribution?

    • I think your personal attack on Mr. Bloch says more about you than it does Mr. Bloch.

      Good for Mr. Bloch, if he wrote some successful books, and helped others help themselves, that’s something valuable.

      If Mr. Bloch can be open, and mindful, by his presence here, of the grave harms being perpetrated by psychiatric ideology then I am all for that.

      I think your idea on bringing an evangelist or religious person to write for this site is a great idea. I know you were being mocking, as per usual, but I think an understanding of the sanctity of the human life and body, from a religious perspective could be helpful and welcome in the variety of voices we have here.

      Certainly better than your constant sneering.

    • I find it hard to understand your objections to this article. I am a mental health consumer and used to work at a mental health social center. In my personal experience and those of the clients I worked with was that medication rarely fixes everything. It is but one tool of many. Any doctor who denies that is the one who is selling something.

      I am not familiar with this author’s program but it is just common sense that people need to learn coping skills to deal with depression and other mental disorders. The “shut up and take your pill” approach promotes a passive dependance on the doctor that does not do the consumer any favors.

      Note that I am not saying people should not take medication. What I am saying is that people need to empower themselves by learning everything they can about their illness and how to manage it.

      From reading this article I do not see any evidence of Mr. Bloch hawking a “miracle cure” as you seem to imply. What he is talking about is giving people more tools to deal with a devastating illness. In my book that is a good thing!

  2. I agree with the last post. This is inappropriate promotion and it undermines the credibility of Mad In America.

    The headline is also suspect: ‘more than a pill’ suggests that pills are part of the cure. For those of us who’ve been deeply damaged by pills that cured nothing it’s a little insulting.

  3. I’m always immediately skeptical of anyone who just happens to pull their specific “program” out of their hat when discussing something like this. Everything the person says is suspect in my eyes from their on. It’s that old “oh, by the way…..” routine. I agree, it seems like more of this is cropping up on MIA.

  4. This blog article is communicating the failure of the drug path and value of Self Care. What’s the problem? Is it because there’s a link to a website (loaded with info) featuring books for sale? Heads up to Sir Bloch – maybe people are discouraged by certain site layouts.

    I like how you mention Dr. Weil’s book. I owned a copy, then passed it on to someone who needed it. What it really comes down to is this: we can take in endless information but it will be until we begin to APPLY what we’re learning (cannot “learn” without the application of information).

  5. It takes less than a pill in my opinion to heal from depression. What it takes is knowledge. What had helped me heal from depression was a subliminal, motivational CD that contained self-esteem affirmations! The 2nd half of the CD was music that contained subliminal messages/affirmations. The CD worked! I wish I could mention the name of the CD and who created it, but advertising such would be breaking the rules regarding use of this website. All I can say is “you don’t need a pill to rid depression!” You need to love yourself! You need to have healthy self-esteem! I’ve recently heard that hypnotherapy is also being used successfully to help people gain self-esteem. I’ve heard one session with a hypnotherapist can shows results. Most people in the world right now are currently living with low self-esteem without realizing it! They think they have self-esteem, but they don’t. Most haven’t really known what self-esteem really is and what it feels like. The best way I can describe self-esteem is a consistent feeling of self-confidence, peace and joy within! The psychiatric community is only beginning to realize the importance of healthy self-esteem regarding their patients. Few psychiatrists have even begun to treat their patients for low self-esteem. Low self-esteem is finally being considered directly related to mental illness. For years your local shrinks have only made their patient’s self-esteem WORSE by drugging and labeling them as mentally ill. They’ve given shock treatments to treat depression, boatloads of medications, some even causing depression as a possible side-effect. Patients suffering depression have been hosptialized time and again in lock-up wards, isolation rooms, even straight jackets – all causing a person’s self-esteem to dwindle more and more till there’s none! Psychiatrists have sat behind their desk looking at the clock while you pour your hearts out as a patient. They’ve interrupted you the moment your session was over no matter what you were saying to them if you were having a breakthrough or not. Many of you have been guinea pigs for years to treatments that never work for long. Many patients have committed suicide, many have been hospitalized numerous times barely surviving the revolving door between outpatient therapy and in-patient hospitalization. The only people that have gained true support have been the shrinks and the big pharma companies since mental illness has been a thriving business for many years. Most shrinks are a-holes, that’s putting it nicely. Mental illness is simple in my opinion. The cause has mainly been a lack of love and praise throughout childhood along with proper discipline! Our children have been growing-up not knowing how to love themselves as a result!!!! If you want to rid depression out of your life or at least gain substantial, lasting relief? Purchase a good subliminal CD that has self-esteem affirmation or make an appointment with a hypnotherapist trained to help people gain self-esteem! Then once you realize having self-esteem is EVERYTHING you can tell your shrink to shove his PDR and prescription pad up his butt.

  6. Here’s a description of what it is and what it feels like to have healthy self-esteem. Are you ready? This is the list:
    You have inner peace, inner joy and happiness. You have self-confidence and self-worth. You love and approve of yourself. You feel good about yourself. You feel good about your life. You feel your oneness with all of life. You feel at home wherever you are. You admire your mind. You are a good person. You feel inspired by life. You know how to have fun. You allow yourself to play every day. You are proud of all your accomplishments. You are filled with positive energy. You are the treasure you have been seeking. You are in control of your life. You cherish yourself. You are tender and gentle with yourself. You radiate self-respect. You release the need for self-criticism. You are worth loving. You are lovable because you exist. You care, respect and honor yourself. You love yourself more every day. You easily speak-up for yourself. You become a blessing to others. You experience love wherever you go. You have wonderful and loving relationships. You are a receptacle of love. You feel safe just being you. You feel good-enough just as you are. You express your joy through singing and dancing. You are a magnet for miracles. You become less needy of love and acceptance from others. And because of your positive thinking and the happiness you feel – you attract more positive and loving experiences into your life! You also have new ideas that further support your happiness! ALL THIS BECOMES TRUE WHEN YOU HAVE HEALTHY SELF-ESTEEM!