Eat well, think well

A new study has found that changes to diet (using the “Modified Mediterranean Diet“) can lead to significant improvement in moderate to severe clinical depression. At the end of a 12 week program, close to a third of participants were classified as being in remission, compared to less than one-tenth of the control group.

You can read the full publication of the research project here:
A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial)

For a plain-language description of the research and findings, follow the link below:
Food & Mood Centre – SMILES Trial.
Healthy fruit

Motivation and the secrets to getting things done – part 1 – Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation

What makes you get out of bed in the morning? What makes you go to work? What makes you read a book, or sit down to watch tv?

All of these actions in our daily lives are driven by motivation. But what does that really mean?

Motivation is something I have been thinking about – and researching – a lot recently. Motivation has been on my mind because one of the biggest challenges in providing effective psychological treatment for depression seems to be overcoming motivational barriers that are a symptom of depression. For example, exercise is known to be an effective treatment for depression – but how can a depressed person exercise consistently enough to experience improvement in mood when two of the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for Major Depressive Disorder suggest significant problems of motivation?
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The Serotonin Hypothesis of Depression

I am all for accurate information when it comes to managing your own health. Today I want to explore some misinformation about the causes and treatment of depression.

Serotonin chemical structure

Serotonin

You may have heard the idea, especially if you have ever been treated for depression, that depression is caused by a lack of a particular chemical, serotonin, in the brain. And you may have heard that antidepressants help lift depression by correcting this serotonin shortage.

The problem is, it isn’t true. Continue reading

Rewire your brain: neuroplasticity FTW!

Magnetic resonance imaging capture of a human brain
ABC Radio National’s Health Report recently did a fascinating program on neuroplasticity: Brain plasticity / Measuring brain plasticity (for those who don’t want to listen to the audio there is also a link there to the transcript of the program). I highly recommend this program which outlines some exciting new implications of research into the workings of the human brain.

Our brains are not like computers, which have a fixed hardware onto which you load software and that stores information by re-arranging some ones and zeros electrically. For one thing, the transfer of information in our brains uses a highly complicated combination of electrical and chemical signalling. More significantly, though, as we form new memories and learn new skills our brains actually change structurally. Neuroplasticity is the ability your brain has to change structure – to “rewire itself” in response to experience. Continue reading

The pain inside

“She’s just doing it for attention.” This is a phrase I have often heard from people trying to understand why a patient, a friend or a loved-one has been deliberately hurting themselves. It can seem almost impossible to understand such behaviour for anyone who hasn’t personally experienced the urge to deliberately cut yourself, burn yourself or inflict harm in some other way. It goes against all our natural instincts of survival and self-protection. Unfortunately, though understandably, the assumption often ends up being that a person who does such a thing must be either attention-seeking or “crazy”. But, most often, neither is the case.
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It gets worse before it gets better

There is a common paradox for psychological therapy: many times the strategies we have found to provide us relief from our problems are at the same time perpetuating our problems. For example, a man suffering depression may find that staying in bed all day is the only way to get some slight relief from his persistent sadness and guilt. Yet, at the same time, staying in bed is keeping him isolated from social supports that could play an important part in his recovery. It is also feeding back into his guilt when, at the end of the day, he reflects on all the things he “should” have done instead of being in bed.

A woman with a phobia of mice may find running and hiding in another room if she sees a mouse gives her relief from her feelings of terror – yet in doing so she has unintentionally reinforces her automatic fear response to seeing mice.

Therapy generally involves, at some point, changing unhelpful patterns in one way or another. Initially this means stopping use of strategies that have had at least short-term benefits. Consequently, therapy can at times be very uncomfortable: you make a choice to confront difficult feelings and experiences that you have developed a range of strategies for avoiding. Because of this I often caution clients that “it gets worse before it gets better.” It is often necenssary to sit through discomfort, sometimes considerable discomfort, to experience the reward of mastering a problem.
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Positive Attitude


Many times I have heard a phrase something along the lines of this: “I’ve been depressed before. But I just learned to snap out of it.”

It is often said by someone who has never really experienced depression in response to the suffering of someone who has depression. The implication is that the depressed person merely lacks the willpower to “snap out of it.”

Depression is more than just sadness. It is different to grief. Depression is a chronic state of low mood, negative thinking, depleted energy and absence of motivation. It is a self-perpetuating state in which the very actions that might contribute to recovery seem the least possible.
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