Depression is not "all in your head." Depression is a body-wide debilitating condition which I've personally suffered from. From around age nine to age nineteen my life was one big ball of pain, anxiety and unhappiness.
But how much of that was circumstantial, how much of it was "in my head" and how much of it was related to my physical health?
I have a lot of personal conclusions and beliefs regarding depression, panic attacks, but before I talk about that I thought I'd give some concrete "evidence" that comes from outside myself.
The connection between diet, disease and depression (sources at the end of the entry):
- Dr. Stephen Schoenthaler has published a series of studies conducted in juvenile prison systems and schools. In the prison studies, he found that improved diet plus the addition of vitamins improved behavior dramatically, reducing rule-breaking and violence 40% or more.
- A study done by Michael S Donaldson in 2001 on the impact of a vegetarian mostly raw diet on people with fibromayalgia showed a decrease in general pain, and an increase in flexibility.
- Zinc deficiency is known to trigger behavioral problems, including aggression (Ward 1990, 1997). Ward's research showed that children with a diagnosis of ADHD lost zinc faster than other people did when they ate foods containing food dye.
- A study at Columbia University in New York in 2008 concluded that "A [1-3 week] stay at a raw vegan institute [Hippocrates Health Institute, FL] is closely associated with improved mental and emotional quality of life."
- The Pfeiffer Treatment Center in Illinois has many years of successful experience helping children whose violent behavior is the result of nutritional imbalance.
- In the 1970s and 80s, Barbara Reed Stitt was having remarkable success in helping parolees stay out of trouble. Most probation officers had success with only 15% of their parolees; Barbara's success rate was an unheard-of 85%. What she did: convince them to improve their diet. You can read about her work in the book Food & Behavior, a Natural Connection and in an article called "A Different Kind of School Lunch." Her work is also used in the Appleton Alternative School in Wisconsin, a school for troubled teenagers.
- Schmidt (1997) compared a diet eliminating all additives as well as most allergens with Ritalin for children with conduct-disorder as well as ADHD. 44% of them responded to Ritalin, while 24% responded equally well to the Feingold-type diet. He concluded, "dietary treatment cannot be neglected as a possible access to treating hyperactive/disruptive children."
- Peter (1997) surveyed 100 young criminals and found that 75% of them had food allergies, food intolerance, and nutritional problems, compared to only 18% of the young non-offender population.
- "The supplements just provided the vitamins, minerals and fatty acids found in a good diet, which the inmates should get anyway. Yet the improvement was huge." - C. Bernard Gesch
- In 1998, Peter successfully treated nine children with persistent anti-social disruptive and/or criminal behavior by changing their diet to avoid the identified problem foods.
- Gesch (2002) showed that antisocial behavior in prisons, including violence, are dramatically reduced by ordinary supplements of vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids (but not by placebo).
- Weimar Institute in Northern California has demonstrated that a very low-fat vegetarian diet can also reverse diabetes.
A 2010 study by Dr Felice Jacka from Victoria's Deakin University found that what we eat can have a profound effect on our mental health, reducing the risk of depression and anxiety.Jacka interviewed more than 1000 women regarding their diet and mental-health symptoms. What made this study different was that for the first time the whole diet of the subjects was looked at, rather than just the role of specific nutrients, such as omega-3, magnesium and folate, in relation to depression and anxiety disorders.The study found that those subjects who had diets high in processed foods and junk food were more likely to suffer anxiety and depression disorders than those who – you guessed it – had wholefood diets high in vegetables, fruit, fish and other lean protein.Jacka also conducted a study, published in September last year, on adolescents in relation to diet and mental health. With a quarter of young Australians already experiencing mental-health issues, she found that there was a strong suggestion that it may be possible to help prevent teenage depression by getting youngsters to adopt a nutritious, high-quality diet.What's more, changes in the quality of adolescent diets over two years were reflected in the mental health of subjects. So the kids whose diets got worse over the two years had a commensurate deterioration in their mental health, as opposed to an improvement for those kids who adopted a healthier diet.
- The Institute of Internal Medicine in Italty did a study that showed a gluten-free diet significantly reduced anxiety in coeliac patients.
- In 1992 a study was done in Oregon that showed that a cholesterol-lowering diet improved the emotional state of all 305 subjects. There were reductions in depression as well as aggression.
- "A raw food vegan diet has been shown to reverse heart disease, cure cancer, and solve digestive problems and depression." ~ John Wiley
- In a 1994 German study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: A vegetarian lifestyle of twenty years or more was associated with a decreased rate of cancer mortality, a decreased rate in instances of colon cancer, and no deaths from rectal cancer.
- Dr. Dean Ornish has demonstrated that very low-fat vegetarian diets (of 10% or less calories coming from fat) can reverse heart disease.
- "I’ve been vegan since being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1982. I was very happy with that diet, but in 1999 I’d heard about a diet consisting of primarily raw fruits and vegetables. I decided to give it a thirty-day trial and then decide whether to stay raw. Well, the thirty days came and went and I stayed raw. Shopping and food preparation was simplified. My electricity bill went down. Cleaning up was almost nonexistent. There was certainly no boredom because I was eating a wide variety of foods. I had lots of energy for my triathlon running, biking, and swimming, and I felt just great! I also lost some weight." by Ruth Heidrich, Ph.D.
The above is just a glimpse of the proven effects of diet on disease and depression. Besides my my own struggle with suicidal behavior and depression, I have much personal second-hand experience with the effect of a raw vegan diet in particular.
I've written about the experience I've had with encountering raw vegans at potlucks, and how their upbeat attitude was one of my first inspirations towards a raw vegan diet. I most recently mentioned it in a conversation on my facebook wall, which I have edited down to it's basic components as follows:
Me: People are getting degenerative diseases younger and younger. However, the age to which we actually survive -- on average -- is getting higher and higher. In extreme short: People are becoming less energetic, less able, less sharp-witted at younger and younger ages, but still living longer and longer through artificial means. This means that the population of people who are not able to "contribute" is growing rapidly.
Friend: That's because our society has too much compassion and empathy.
Me: Not at all. It's because we have no compassion for ourselves that we completely disrespect our own bodies and take no heed of our own emotional health. That is a generalization, but I fully believe that it is justified.
People want to do their exercise "during television commercials" and eat one cup of lettuce (10 calories) under two tablespoons of dressing (200 calories) and then they berate themselves for not being sexy, healthy and beautiful. Then they let other people abuse them emotionally and let everyone else's opinion of them pull them down.
We put our happiness into the hands of other people and hope that the outside world will make us happy, but happiness comes from a wealth of love, compassion, health and truth that is within ourselves.
What society has is fear. We're afraid that if we don't support the weak that it would make us look bad. We're afraid that if we speak out against medicaid that it would make us seem cruel. We're afraid that if we take good care ourselves and make a fortune that someone will take it away. We're afraid that we don't deserve happiness. We're afraid of change, of being taken seriously, of loving fully, of touching someone heart to heart... We're afraid that if we don't help the 'needy' that we will be needy next.
If we had really compassion we would heal inwardly and inspire others to heal as well, and then we'd all be more able, more happy and a heck of a lot more useful to the world-wide community as a whole. We'd be able to help others better if we lived through love instead of fear.
Friend: The weak willed and weak minded should be slaughtered. That's how you build a strong society. Spartan law.
But more realistically, happiness is a mindset and no matter what your achievements in life are, we all have a built-in automatic reset to neutral. Soon you get used to what ever it is you accomplished, say getting to your perfect weight and you'll be back to feeling normal. Same you, just different appearance. This is just basic psychology.
Me: It's absolutely true that we return to a baseline, but that baseline itself can be raised up so that we always return to a feeling of contentment instead of dissatisfaction.
Friend: The media tells us that fit and thin equates to happiness but there are millions of depressed thin people.
Me: Absolutely, because thin does not equal healthy. Also, physically healthy makes it MUCH easier to become mentally and emotionally healthy, but it doesn't ensure it.
Friend: As for less energy, its not a health issue, it's social evolution. Why go out and talk to people when I can avoid social stigmas and meet like minded people online."
Me: I feel much the same way about going out and meeting people. However, now that I am healthy I love sunlight and nature and I do want to get out to be with plants... not people. When I was unhealthy I hated sun, bugs and being touched by most anybody. Now I don't mind bugs, I love sun, and being intimate with others. I enjoy being close to friends: hugging, exchanging back rubs, having a nice conversation where I can make eye contact. However, I don't like just going out to be out and to meet people. It can be very exasperating.
Friend: Forget date night I gotta go get married in WoW or skyrim. No crisis there, just social evolution.
Me: Nothing wrong with that. I played a lot of WoW for a long time, and enjoyed the heck out of it. I grew up playing Civilization, Colonization, Pharoh, Age of Empires, King's Quest, Caesar, etc.
However... Since I became a raw vegan and started helping others, growing food, spending more time drawing, etc... I'm finding accomplishment and satisfaction in the 'real world' and don't feel the same way when I try to play video games.
When someone can find accomplishment in their 'real life' then video-game accomplishments are less meaningful. I'm not trying to put down WoW -- I ran a guild with over 300 members that I built up from scratch myself, and I even met the person who took over my guild in person when I was traveling through Arizona. She was a nice woman and I was glad I was able to leave my guild in good hands.
It's not that WoW has no value, or that games are "not real." The investment you put into something is exactly what you get out of it... However, when I can invest in really helping other people, really healing them, it doesn't interest me very much to help them get through a raid or dungeon.
In some ways there is an evolution. I met my husband on the internet: that is evolution. However, when people choose to hide in their room doing nothing but smoking pot and playing single-player games, and working a 9-5 job that they hate... That is not evolution at all. There are many sides to the story.
Friend: Physical health only relates to mental health if ones condition is related to their appearance. IE: Me losing weight will have zero effect on my mental issues. I'm minoring in psych ... you need to give me some APA research in order to make a claim like that. If a person loses weight and is healed of mental illness then the issue was casued because of their own personal issues with their image. Real clinical depression is not cured by weight loss.
Me: Well, not by starvation-method weight-loss, no. I changed my diet to heal my ulcers, not to lose weight. I happened to lose 30lbs without trying. I never expected the depression to melt away and never come back either.
I've been depression-free since removing the toxic nonsense from my diet, and I hear the same thing from raw vegans I meet everywhere. Healthy equals happy, and healthy usually means thin/muscular. But I've met plenty of muscular or thin people who were unhealthy and depressed.
Friend: Personal experience can not be taken as scientific fact.
Me: Acidic pH residue caused by dairy, meat, most cooked foods and poison cause negative emotions through hormones. Toxins, like acrylamide in browned foods (fried, baked, deep fried, toasted), have to be removed with the use of nutrients and fats. This removal is exhausting, leaving people feeling lethargic, which does not promote happiness.
Nutrients get put on 'toxin control' and thereby are not put to their normal use. It's well documented than lack of b-vitamins causes depression to schizophrenia.
I have schizophrenia on both sides of my family and as a child it appeared likely that I would be diagnosed with schizophrenia as well. I have many relatives who 'cured' their schizophrenia by taking b-vitamin supplements (which I don't personally advise except in extreme conditions since it's easy to get plenty of b-vitamins from fruits and vegetables since they are so very plentiful in b-vitamins).
Even the Dalai Lama says that health is an important precursor to happiness.
Between b-vitamins, pH and the common sense (stomach aches make people unhappy), there is plenty of evidence. And what's more, those are not even all the different kinds of studies that have been done on it.
I use my personal experience as my foremost examples because my life is my own personal study. Other people's studies are their studies. My accounts of my own experiences will be more accurate than my fifth-hand account of someone else's experience.
One of the very largest reasons I got into raw veganism and stuck with it was because I at every raw potluck I went to I had live inspiration. People who've been doing raw food for a year or more glow with happiness and success.
It's such a common trend to hear someone say at a raw potluck, "Before raw food my life was a mess, but now I am doing what I love at work, at home, and I never get sick anymore." Of course, everyone says it in their own way, but the sincerity in people's eyes... I've met hundreds of raw vegans now. I hardly need any further evidence.
Maura Ann Simmonds-Price: Just want to add that being on a raw food diet has helped me mentally. I am less depressed, have less panic attacks, and am less uncontrolably angry. I think being physically healthy has alot to do with mental health.
Friend: I have tried living my life in so many different ways and did the vegan thing for over six months. I'm depressed no matter what I do or how I live: in a relationship, surrounded by friends and family, money or no money, working or unemployed, I have no cure for my depression and manic states. The only thing that seems to help is marijuana. I'm not knocking your experience, but mine clashes with yours so I have to view this as a case by case situation, not as a general fact for everyone.
Maura Ann Simmonds-Price: Raw food is very different from vegan. It may really help you.
Me: I went vegan and removed gluten from my diet without my depression going away. It helped a little, but it was the raw diet that made it go away fully.
Also, that kind of imbalance is hormonal (especially since you mention that pot helps), and it can take years to fully straighten out hormones. Hormones are affected by more than just food: breathing, sunlight, sleeping patterns and air quality all dramatically affect how hormones in the body function.
If you want some help that is purely mental/intellectual, two books have resulted in great increased to my "happiness baseline": The Mastery of Love and The Art of Happiness. These two books both made a huge change in my life each on their own. They are so good I've actually gone back to read certain passages over and over. I find myself using the information I gained from these books every single day of my life -- no kidding.
In my opinion, a completely raw, organic diet with only whole foods (no sweeteners) combined with the teachings from those two books would fully cure any individual of their depression, provided they were not actually mentally retarded at birth or otherwise severely damaged. I have confidence that you are not nearly that damaged, since you are clearly very intelligent and capable of empathy and emotion. I hope you never give up and that you find a personal truth.
Other connections to unhappiness are revealed in the book The Continuum Concept, which (for me) fully explains the sense of "longing" that most of us seem to share, and how to cure that longing.
From the evidence I started out with at the beginning of this entry, I think it is clear that it doesn't take a fully raw vegan diet to see improvement. The simple removal or reduction of toxins alone is tremendous.
Toxins include: brown and white sugar, corn syrup, canola oil, mono-sodium-glutamate, food colorings, hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners, 'natural' sweeteners, acrylamide and aflatoxin.
The reason why going vegan can have a big impact for some people is that animals store toxins their fat, as I go into detail about in my recent entry, "Why does a raw vegan who eats junk food get sick? Explained at last!", and removing that source of toxin intake is a relief for the body.
If you are suffering from depression, there are likely many contributors, but I believe dietary changes have the most lasting impact.
Thank you for reading.
~ Raederle Phoenix