The Drug-Free Solution to Ending Depression

Kelly Brogan, MD, ABIHM
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You’ve been told you’re sick, labeled for life, medicated, and then medicated some more. While “in treatment,” you’ve felt like an anesthetized version of yourself. A revved-up version of yourself. A one-note version of yourself, but you’ve struggled to adapt to this new “normal.”

Maybe you’ve been down the rabbit hole of medication discontinuation because you were sick of hearing your psychiatrist say, “it’s just the dose,” or “you would do well with the addition of a mood stabilizer.” Likely, you’ve visited with some of the undisclosed horrors of psychotropic dependency if you’ve lived to tell the tale of your movement from psych patient to wounded warrior.

This, the Mad in America community, gives me intense hope. Hope that as a collective we can raise awareness, heal one another, and expose the Truth for all to see. I bring this hope to my patients, every day. Because I believe in the resiliency of the human body, in the native wisdom contained in our relationship to the natural world. And I believe that “mental illness” is the symptom of all that is off, wrong, and misaligned in our relationship to primary human needs – for connectedness and for the integrity of our physical relationship to the natural world.

First, let me tell you that I was once a typical doctor, not to mention a typical American who loved pizza, soda, birth control, and ibuprofen. I believed in the science that I was taught to believe in. I felt that medication was the answer. And that symptoms were problems that needed to be fixed, suppressed, eradicated. That every patient was just one chemical prescription away from functioning “normally.” It wasn’t until my fellowship specialized in medicating pregnant and breastfeeding women, at a time when I was also pregnant, that I began to feel into a voice inside me that said, “I’m writing prescriptions that no amount of reported ‘safety data’ could convince me to take.” I largely ignored that voice until I decided to take a different route and put my postpartum autoimmune condition into remission through lifestyle medicine.

Only then was I was ready to hear Robert Whitaker’s message.

A friend gave me Anatomy of an Epidemic and I can still remember crying on the subway when I turned the last page. The entire house of cards crumbled for me that day. I never started a patient on a medication again.

I spent about 2 years taking patients off of medication, developing first-hand insight into the dependency-forming character of these drugs. It wasn’t until I realized that I needed to enhance their resiliency first, before beginning a taper, that I developed my program of nutrition based, root-cause resolution of symptoms. I wanted to heal the imbalance – so often physiologic – that led to the pursuit of medication treatment before we took the medication away.

My message is from a personal journey and thousands of hours of research that has compelled me to share the Truth about prescription-based care: we’ve been duped on a grand scale.

When I talk about medicine and mental health to large audiences, I often start with the following imagery and facts: think of a woman you know who is radiantly healthy. I bet your intuition tells you she sleeps and eats well, finds purpose in her life, is active and fit, and finds time to relax and enjoy the company of others. I doubt you envision her waking up to prescription bottles, buoying her way through the day with caffeine and sugar, feeling anxious and isolated, and drinking herself to sleep at night. All of us have an intuitive sense of what health is, but many of us have lost the roadmap to optimal health, especially the kind of health that springs forth when we simply clear a path for it. The fact that one in four American women in the prime of their life is dispensed medication for a mental health condition represents a national crisis.

Humans have used mind-altering substances to try to dull and deaden pain, misery, sorrow, and suffering since time immemorial, but only in the last few decades have people been persuaded that depression is a disease and that chemical antidepressants are the remedy. Many of my patients have been to multiple doctors, bumping up against the hard ceiling of what conventional medicine has to offer. Some have even tried integrative medicine, which aims to combine both traditional medicine (i.e., prescriptions) with alternative treatments (e.g., acupuncture). After all, they are told that there are great natural complements to all the wonders pharmaceutical products have to offer. But the reason they can’t find a solution is because nobody has asked why. Why are they unwell? Why are their bodies creating symptoms that manifest as depression? Why didn’t they stop to ask this important and obvious question the first time they experienced a flat mood, anxiety, insomnia, and chronic exhaustion?

Yes, my entire training was based on a model of disease care that offers patients only one tool—a drug—and never a shot at true wellness. We’ve handed over our health to those who seek to profit from it, and we’ve been buying into a paradigm based on the following notions:

▶  We are broken.

▶  Fear is an appropriate response to symptoms.

▶  We need chemicals to feel better.

▶  Doctors know what they are doing.

▶  The body is a machine requiring calibration (via drugs). A little too much of this, too little of that.

I call this collective set of notions the Western Medical Illusion. It sets up a vicious system that ushers you into lifelong customer status, dependent and disempowered.

As you can likely guess by now, I love to rant. But I do so with the best evidence science can offer, and there’s a lot we know today about the real root causes of depression—and how to treat the condition safely and successfully—without a prescription pad. If there’s one lesson I will drive home, it’s this: shed the fear, take back your inner compass, and embrace a commitment to your journey. Even if you don’t already or haven’t taken a prescription drug, I bet you question living the rest of your life prescription free and reliant on your own inner intuition to know what’s best for you. The idea of supporting your body’s innate wisdom may sound quaint at best, or like dangerous hippie woo-woo at worst. I want to tempt you with these possibilities:

▶  Prevention is possible.

▶  Medication treatment comes at a steep cost.

▶  Optimal health is not possible through medication.

▶  Your health is under your control.

▶  Working with lifestyle medicine—simple everyday habits that don’t entail drugs—is a safe and effective way to send the body a signal of safety.

In holistic medicine, there are no specialties. It can be quite basic. It’s about mindset, readiness to shed fear, and trust in the body’s capacity to heal when properly supported. For my patients to be well, I know they will need to approach their health with an extreme commitment to the integrity of their mind and body.

Why?

Because we are looking at the body as an intricately woven spiderweb—when you yank one area of it, the whole thing moves. And because there is a more powerful way to heal.

Depression is an opportunity. It is a sign for us to stop and figure out what’s causing our imbalance. Rather than symptoms as a sign that you are broken and weak, born this way, and condemned to a struggle with low serotonin—simple, powerful changes can begin to send the body a signal of safety, and then free the mind. When the body and its interconnected systems is healed, symptoms resolve and the mind is no longer the enemy but a trustworthy tool for transformation.

Basic lifestyle interventions can facilitate the body’s powerful self-healing mechanisms to end depression: dietary modifications (more healthy fats and less sugar, dairy, and gluten); natural supplements like B vitamins and probiotics that don’t require a prescription and can even be delivered through certain foods; minimizing exposures to biology-disrupting toxicants like fluoride in tap water, chemicals in common drugs like Tylenol and statins, and fragrances in cosmetics; harnessing the power of sufficient sleep and physical movement; and behavioral techniques aimed at promoting the relaxation response. I’ve seen patients transformed in a little as 30 days. Dare to be one of them! Participate in changing the conversation around mental health in our time! This isn’t anti-psychiatry. It’s pro-informed consent. It’s pro-healing.

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49 COMMENTS

  1. Great article, but IMO you have to be careful about using the word “medication”.

    You wrote “Optimal health is not possible through medication.” This statement is wrong in physical illness.
    You have to write “Optimal health is not possible through psychiatric medication.”

    • 1) To add to this comment, Dr. Brogan’s disclosure and description that she used to be a typical psychiatrist but then changed is so encouraging. hank you to her. I am shocked (in a good way) by it because I feel a great deal of hopelessness that psychiatrists generally are willing to share about the harm they personally have probably caused by prescribing pharmaceuticals. Seems like some psychiatrists are willing to speak out, but not name themselves as part of the problem. This blog nicely breaks that pattern and hopefully encourages others to come forward. I’m wondering what her experience is if or when she tries to directly address colleagues and tell them about this from this perspective (personal journey/personal change of heart). As a psychiatric survivor, I have had very limited to no success in addressing psychiatrists and getting them to see the harm of their mode of operation… I blame power dynamics, cognitive dissonance, finances at stake, and psychiatry’s view that those labeled are truly “sick” and therefore with no credibility … I’m also wondering more about how she felt or what she thought when she realized the great hoax and if she ever reached out to past patients and told them what had happened. Something that’s so inhibitory to truth about society is the fear that many professionals of all kinds have of being sued or losing their ability to support themselves if they disclose that they have harmed and that they have then changed. Such a thing is one of the best ways for the system to stop harming or even stop existing.

      2) “I call this collective set of notions the Western Medical Illusion. It sets up a vicious system that ushers you into lifelong customer status, dependent and disempowered.”

      Amen. People do not realize that in a capitalist society, corporations/industries do not have to tell the truth while trying to sell their products. Not at all. Psychiatry’s depression model is false and harmful, but one can be viewed by everyday others as a conspiracy theorist by simply trying to explain what Dr. Brogan is saying here. Again, the voicelessness of being abused by psychiatry in the patient role often repeats itself in the form of the voicelessness felt by trying to spread psychiatric survivor materials and perspectives.

  2. I notice while depression is the focus of this article, bipolar disorder isn’t even mentioned.This is because bipolar isn’t currently something you can will away, or meditate away. Same thing with schizophrenia. I do think that in some cases bipolar could be prevented if there is early screening and intervention. unfortunately it’s very hard to diagnose, and once diagnosed you’re on meds for life.

    • Yes you can. I was hospitalized in the early 1980s on a rebound after stopping lithium – but I didn’t go back on the lithium.

      Schizophrenia is predominantly about anxiety and it is possible to very gradually reduce the pitch of anxiety.

      The main thing is to only withdraw from meds very
      S L O W L Y.

    • Wish

      keep reading this site and the research references you’ll find here and you’ll realise that bipolar is no more “real” than other psychiatric diagnoses, and that people do get better and live more productive and satisfying lives with little or no “medication”.

      …and yes, this even applies “schizophrenia”.

      It requires commitment and effort and support and therapy, and these are not the first line treatments preferred by a society and doctors intent on quick fix pills and committed to enriching the coffers of pharmaceutical corporations.

    • Dealing holistically with depression has nothing to do with willing or meditating it “away” (in fact much of the practice of meditation is grounded in the acceptance of negative mood states [rather than running away from them]).

      Also, some researchers now think that bipolar is actually a subset of depression (since it *never* exists independently of depressive symptoms [i.e. unipolar mania]).

    • I was diagnosed bi-polar at age 51. I didn’t believe in the diagnosis, so, after being mandated to take the drugs for six months, I tapered off gradually over the course of three. On April 26th, I will celebrate my anniversary, 4 years drug-free. Sometimes I think this is a silly anniversary to celebrate, since I have been drug free most of my life. But when I contemplate the horror stories I have read in Anatomy of An Epidemic, Toxic Psychiatry and here on Mad in America, I am feel so lucky to be drug-free. All of these have helped me to believe that I am a normal person again and I am truly grateful to all the authors. Also, just started reading Psychiatry and the Business of Madness. And so I must ask, why do you think you have to be on meds for life?

  3. I have a friend who is a paranoid schizophrenic. If he goes off his meds he starts getting messages from the radio. Another person I know decided to take a cab from Albany to NYC at 3 am on a Wednesday- he is bi-polar. Some people do need drugs to function. But to say that anyone and everyone who experiences depression or other abnormal thoughts/ behaviors can be “fixed” by meds is a total sham. I think the real driving force behind depression is the fact that people treat each other without an ounce of compassion. Not just doctors and patients but in day to day interactions. We ask, How are you? but don’t actually want an answer.

    • @RamonaAStone
      RE” messages from the radio” from drug withdrawal. Anyone who quits a mind altering drug with have withdrawal symptoms.
      If your friend goes off the psych drugs out in the quiet country and does not have a radio to listen to, he can not get any messages.
      If he/she was out in the country and had to work daily on a farm from sunrise to sunset, he/she would be likely to sleep the night through from exhaustion.

      The luxury of a radio and the money to take a cab from Albany to NYC (from a crazy idea), did not exist 150 years ago.

      • While living simply and in touch with nature (and using one’s body through physical effort) can be beneficial to many people if you’re implying that mental illnesses don’t exist among rural populations, or are simply a feature of the modern industrialized world, I think you’re very wrong.

        • Mental illness is a construct and probably not a reality as most people want to think of it. Many of us on this site do not believe in an entity or experience called mental illness. This does not mean however that we don’t know and understand that people often experience great emotional and psychological distress, after all, many of us have gone through it ourselves. But seeing what we experienced and may still experience as an illness doesn’t fit what we ourselves know as our own personal truth.

          And of course, many rural people experience this same distress, especially these days when it’s so difficult to make a living of any kind at farming. Again, thanks to the systems that are running this country and our lives distress is alive and well in every population. But it is not an illness that we are dealing with. We are dealing with trying to respond to overwhelming experiences that we find deeply troubling and almost impossible to deal with.

  4. Ramon,

    When I went off my meds a long acting injection, I ended up in hospital very quickly. And this happened several times. After this I tapered very carefully and was sucessful.

    But if I had not attempted this several times (or if I had followed medical advice) I would still be “sick” .

    The injection had been causing extrapyramidal movement disorder and I had been disabled while I consumed it. So when I came off it I was able to get back to gainful functioning and independence.

    That was in the mid 1980s and I have been well and independent since.

    (I did get help also with mental adjustment to medication withdrawal and this worked for me as well).

  5. Nash treated the worst mental illness schizophrenia without medications, its certainly possible. The problem is family, community, nutrition, and therapeutic support is lacking in America. Medications then become the lifeline to keep these people functional, and its sad. Open dialogue used in Finland is great and successful, but how many Doctors in America will sit down and tell the family members of the mentally ill that their responsible for their patients depression and sadness? The insurance is who pays them, and the financial provider is responsible for their salaries it is not even a consideration. We are groomed in a country where even our politicians openly display signs of mental illness with yelling in anger in debates, narcissistic disorders, fearing mongering anxieties and panic attacks, how will they go against medications for people who don’t adopt their principles? Much less the toxic water filled with lead as found in Flint Michigan, the toxic foods that are unregulated which contribute to mental illness, blame goes around and back from government, corporations, the wealthy, and even in our own homes. It’s a complicated issue, but it can be solved with compassion.

      • No its really that simple, family members in a position of power over the mentally ill are responsible for their illness.

        Whether they provide the money or love for the sick, they are certainly the main contributors to the illness. Though I understand your point, but the focus should be on the most vulnerable victims of mental illness even if the entire family is mentally sick.

        We have politicians running for president who openly display signs of mental illness, it is not only a disorder of the family as a unit but the country as a unit as well. Treating the most sickened with mental illness with compassion should start at the bottom, rather than at the top.

      • Under the same token, hope you realize I am on the same side as you guys and would hope it is more welcoming.

        I understand people who are chronically sad aren’t mentally ill, it is the language they use to communicate so I must adopt it in order to communicate universally.

    • “how many Doctors in America will sit down and tell the family members of the mentally ill that their responsible for their patients depression and sadness”

      Your statement is a generalization and only your opinion of open dialog that is not based in fact. Conjecture and finger pointing plants the wrong seed no matter how intelligent the planter or pointer might be.

      It might be true that family members are not responsible enough for recovery.
      Open dialogue seems more inclusive in this respect and thus more successful.

      It takes a village!

      • Open dialogue allows family members to be aware of their contribution to someones mental illness. It is a polite way of opening their eyes to the fact they’re mentally ill themselves, and teaches the entire family to heal itself together.

        I cannot support your belief that mental illness just comes out of the blue for individuals, without family members baring some responsibility by either being negligent or causing intentional harm in their relationships with the sick.

        This is all exposed in open dialogue when all parties express their problems.

        • I don’t think the other poster at any point stated or implied that mental illness comes “out of the blue” at the individual level (the “micro-level”), just that the answer may not lie completely at the family or meso-level (there’s also often causative elements at the societal or “macro” level).

          • I mentioned the present Presidential candidates most notably on the Republican side showing obvious signs of untreated mental illness. Narcissistic disorder from Donald Trump, Bipolar from the other angry candidates.

            Society is certainly to blame for mental illness, but the family is to blame just the same.

            Healing mental illness by treating society is harder to do, so that is why I believe the focus should be on healing the family even if that means accepting hard truths and placing blame.

            You can’t fix a mistake, unless you’re aware of it. Correcting mistakes can be done in a compassionate way with open dialogue.

          • @Jack D:

            No no no no. That’s not how we should be thinking. Using accusations of “mental illness” to disparage someone’s politics is always wrong for so many reasons, especially when there are so many correct reasons to do so in this case.. For one, it validates the notion of “mental illness.” Two, it gives people an excuse for their behavior and implies that they are not responsible for their words. Three, it’s a totalitarian tactic.

          • I am in no way saying people with bad politics are mentally ill, I am saying they show signs of mental illness.

            My whole point was not give people with mental illness an excuse for being bad. I believe the mentally ill who are powerful such as politicians or head of households, be held accountable for hurting vulnerable mentally ill people in their families, or have no power in society such as the poor.

            The powerful mentally ill who abuse others should be blamed, but also helped with compassion and shown the error of their ways, through open dialogue therapy for families, and even further beyond for society.

          • @jack — I guess you haven’t yet realized that people who use terms like “mental illness” are in the minority here. But welcome. Read & learn…

  6. Dr. Brogan, I agree with you that depression is a symptom, not a disease. I spent years consulting psychiatrists and psychologists who used strictly mainstream approaches to treat my depression; afterward, I didn’t have much to show for it except enormous frustration, and the persistent, strong feeling that my doctors weren’t nearly as confident as they claimed to be.

    My own holistic approach that I used to conquer my long-term depression differs from yours somewhat, but I also acknowledge that some problems have more than one effective solution. I whole-heartedly agree with you that it’s a mistake to use a medication-based approach with depression, and that most psychiatrists, while perhaps well-meaning, do a disservice to the public by doing so.

    May I make a suggestion? I went to look at your books on Amazon, and I couldn’t check the table of contents on either one. I’ve always liked to see the TOC before I purchase a book and I assume that some others do, as well, and I didn’t know if there was a reason that’s not enabled.

  7. “I spent about 2 years taking patients off of medication, developing first-hand insight into the dependency-forming character of these drugs. It wasn’t until I realized that I needed to enhance their resiliency first, before beginning a taper, that I developed my program of nutrition based, root-cause resolution of symptoms.”

    I’m glad the outcomes were ultimately good. I’m also glad I wasn’t a patient in those first two years while the good doctor figured it out. Taking patients off medication, and directing the care of every patient in a practice after reading a SINGLE book? I’m not arguing that medication is better by any means, but I would hope that making any healthcare decision (an MD, however non-conventional is inescapably a healthcare provider) would be collaborative and informed my many resources.

    • I would have gladly been in her group that she took off the drugs. Perhaps I would not have ended up in the situations that I ended up in that resulted in my incarceration in a so-called “mental hospital”. And at least she understands that you can’t go off things cold turkey. Most psychiatrists have absolutely no idea how to safely help people get off the toxic drugs. At least she’s trying to do something positive to help people move forward with their lives, unlike most of her comrades in the so-called profession of psychiatry. I don’t think that she did this simply because she read one book. I suspect, although I can’t speak for her, that this was something that built up over time until she felt she needed to do something more positive than drug people.

  8. Wow Kelly! What an awesome article…such passion for the truth!

    Any suggestions on how early career psychologists could make an inroads into your holistic vision? I’m trying to start my career and looking for direction from holistic warriors like yourself!

  9. Great article! This is how they are handling psychiatric depression else where:

    http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2491354#Abstract

    Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide of Patients With Psychiatric Disorders in the Netherlands 2011 to
    Scott Y. H. Kim, MD, PhD1; Raymond G. De Vries, PhD2,3; John R. Peteet, MD4

    JAMA Psychiatry. Published online February 10, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.2887

    Is this coming to a country near us? Or is it already here and we just aren’t aware of it, yet?

  10. The myth of “broken brains” is alive and well in addiction recovery, “the disease” !

    Depression, commonly known as sadness is an emotional reaction to beliefs often false beliefs… They teach all that stuff but at the same time they teach all that disease model crap and babble about bull like serotonin levels and look at you like you have 3 heads when you try and tell them what bull it really is, the history of the serotonin lie etc.

    And just the way people talk, usually saying “my brain” instead of my mind, those billions of dollars worth of advertising worked.

    I have been around a lot of people who struggle with chemical dependency and so called mental illness and have heard 100s of stories and most of them include being harmed by label and drug. I wouldn’t write on MIA if I saw label and drug helping more people than it harms.

    I guess the medical model helps get insurance to cover stuff but the whole idea or lie about broken brains is damaging to people.

  11. This,

    But the reason they can’t find a solution is because nobody has asked why. Why are they unwell?

    When I was unwell I got so bad I ended up in the ER with anxiety attacks from hell sometimes getting admitted to psych. This was largely due to benzodiazepine tolerance withdrawals , ADHD drugs every morning and SSRIs all mixed together but I was stressing on some real life stuff and I expected someone to ask me “whats wrong” whats your problem and to get a chance to tell someone what had me so unwell I was showing up in hospital ERs and getting admitted to psych.

    Nope, no one really asked whats driving you crazy, just your crazy (suffering from mania I guess the medical records called it) and we have some pills for that.

    My breakthrough came with reading The Myth Of The Chemical Cure, OMG that’s how this works ??? It was a long road but here I am all better thanks to that information.

  12. “In holistic medicine, there are no specialties. It can be quite basic. It’s about mindset, readiness to shed fear, and trust in the body’s capacity to heal when properly supported. For my patients to be well, I know they will need to approach their health with an extreme commitment to the integrity of their mind and body.”

    Very nicely put. I believe “integrity” to be the key word here. I think that a lot of anxiety is caused by our own duplicity, not walking our talk. When we align with our truth, we calm down because we see the totality of everything, and not merely a fraction of it.

    “First, let me tell you that I was once a typical doctor…”

    And I was once a typical human being, until I went through the mental health system, psych drugs withdrawal, healing and transformation. Now, I’m someone I never expected to be, but which has always been me. It takes some getting used to.

    One thing I’ve learned is that healing, change, transformation, and evolution is not for the faint of heart. Aside from integrity, it takes a tremendous amount of trust in our processes, and faith in our higher selves/inner guidance, once we connect with this. It’s a whole new way of living and being, quite rewarding in many interesting ways.

    Thanks for this soul-nourishing article.

  13. I’m a layman with a lot of depression in the family. My observation has lead me to believe that the idea of chemical imbalance causing depression has been accepted without questioning which is the cause and which the effect. My observation has lead me to believe that first comes the depression caused by some event or series of events, and then the chemical balance fails. It’s always seemed to me that forcing a rebalancing via medication as a first option is a bit misguided.