Depressed? Strategies for improving your mental health from Adrian Booth and yours truly

by | Nov 8, 2013 | Experts

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I attended the ‘Healthy Together’ business breakfast in Knox last week. This month’s topic was on depression and stress in the workplace. Adrian Booth from Beyond Blue was one of the speakers. In addition to being very entertaining, his statistics on depression and stress in Australia were overwhelming.

I attended the ‘Healthy Together’ business breakfast in Knox last week. This month’s topic was on depression and stress in the workplace. Adrian Booth from Beyond Blue was one of the speakers. In addition to being very entertaining, his statistics on depression and stress in Australia were overwhelming.

Did you know that 1 in 5 Australians will have a mental illness in their life? I also found some of the key triggers for mental health problems interesting. Some that stood out to me included:

  • not feeling like you are in control of a situation,
  • having too many demands on your time,
  • a lack of social support, and
  • being bullied.

Working in the health industry, I see a lot of people struggling with stress and depression. In fact, research shows that healthy eating and exercise are very protective against depression. A study by Dr Akbaraly and his colleagues in London found that people who ate less processed foods were less likely to develop depression. With an average of one in three meals being prepared outside the home in Australia, it’s not surprising that depression is such a big issue.

However, there are 3 key nutrients that I’d like to mention that have been shown to help reduce the risk of depression.

  1. Omega 3 fatty acidsThe research suggests that eicosapentantoinic acid omega 3 fats (EPA) have a greater benefit on depression than docosahexanoic acid (DHA), although the doses needed and the duration of treatment is still under debate. Most studies use a minimum of 2g combined DHA and EPA fats. Fish is the best source of omega 3, but red meat and eggs contain omega 3 fats as well. Some foods are now fortified with omega 3. However, these foods don’t provide anywhere near 2g of DHA and EPA per serve, so it is recommended that most people with depression take a fish oil supplement (check with your doctor or dietitian if this is advisable for you). Talk to your dietitian about which fish oil supplement you should take, but it is recommended that you choose one that contains more EPA than DHA, and that you consume at least 2g of combined DHA and EPA per day.
  2. Folate – Folate is a vitamin which is used by the body for the formation of serotonin (known as the ‘happy hormone’. People who are depressed often have low folate, and consequently low serotonin levels in their blood stream. It is recommended that adults consume 400 mcg of folate each day. Green leafy vegetables are one of the best sources of folate, and bread is often fortified with folate in Australia. Although the research is limited, it has been suggested that additional folate supplements may be beneficial for people with depression (either with or without anti-depressant medication). The current recommendations are 0.8 – 2mg of folate per day. If you have depression, it is a good idea to get your folate levels checked via a blood test, and discuss your folate intake, and your need for folate supplements with your dietitian. It is important to note that too much folate may mask deficiencies of other nutrients such as vitamin B12.
  3. Vitamin D – It has been found that people with low vitamin D levels are more likely to have depression. It is thought that this is because vitamin D helps to decrease the production of cytokines. Cytokines are a protein which cause inflammation, and it is thought that this may have an impact on depression. New research suggests that a poor immune system, and inflammation may actually play a role in the cause of depression. Whatever the mechanism, we know that vitamin D deficiency is very common in Australia, and vitamin D is a very important nutrient for a range of different reasons. If you have depression, it is recommended that you get your vitamin D levels checked. Your dietitian will then advise you on a course of supplements if needed.

Now back to Mr Booth’s recommendations. He DID stress the importance of a healthy diet and exercise for limiting rates of depression. But, he also had some other great recommendations. In particular:

  • Be aware of the risks of depression and do something about it, don’t just try to bury it
  • Prioritise tasks so that you don’t feel overwhelmed (ask yourself “will the world come to an end if this task doesn’t get completed today?”)
  • Get a mentor who you can confide in for social support
  • Take time to remember your purpose – who are your actions making a difference to?
  • Develop an action plan.

To do: what’s one thing that you could do today to reduce your risk of developing depression?

 

                  

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