How I Treat Depression Drug-Free and Holistically
Adapted from A Mind of Your Own by Kelly Brogan, MD
Why I Put Down My Prescription Pad
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 road map 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. This is far from the truth. 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?
Before I even get to the answers, let me be the first to tell you that the only path to a real solution is to leave the medical world you know behind. This, the journey I will take you on, is not just about symptom suppression, it’s about health freedom. 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. 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.
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.
Holistic Healthcare for Your Brain
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 best self, medication free. Even if you don’t already take 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’s all connected. I am a practicing psychiatrist with a degree in cognitive neuroscience from MIT, an MD from Weill Cornell Medical College, and clinical training from NYU School of Medicine, and I care deeply for women struggling with their well-being. I’m compelled to share what I’ve learned about the corruption of modern psychiatry and its sordid history while investigating holistic methods that focus on nutrition, meditation, and physical activity—what some practitioners are calling lifestyle medicine because the approach involves changes in everyday lifestyle habits, not the use of pharmaceuticals. While such drug-free methods are entirely evidence-based, they are virtually unknown in this age of the quick fix. 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.
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.
It’s so simple that it could be considered an act of rebellion.
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); 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 women transformed in a little as 30 days. Dare to be one of them! Learn the tools you’ll need in A Mind of Your Own.
Kelly Brogan, M.D. is a Manhattan-based holistic women’s health psychiatrist, author of the NY Times Bestselling book, A Mind of Your Own, and co-editor of the landmark textbook, Integrative Therapies for Depression. She completed her psychiatric training and fellowship at NYU Medical Center after graduating from Cornell University Medical College, and has a B.S. from MIT in Systems Neuroscience. She is board certified in psychiatry, psychosomatic medicine, and integrative holistic medicine, and is specialized in a root-cause resolution approach to psychiatric syndromes and symptoms. She is on the board of GreenMedInfo, Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, Functional Medicine University, Pathways to Family Wellness, NYS Perinatal Association, Mindd Foundation, the peer-reviewed, indexed journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, and the Nicholas Gonzalez Foundation. She is Medical Director for Fearless Parent and a founding member of Health Freedom Action. She is a mother of two.
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