Depression - Mindfulness vs. Medication

Depression - Mindfulness vs. Medication

Depression can have a significant impact on weight management.  Many people turn to food for comfort during times of stress, while others may be using a medication for mental health that causes weight gain.  If you're one of those people you're not alone.  Over 50 million adults in the United States struggle with some form of mental illness.  Surprisingly, 93.5% of these people are unable to get the care they need for their mental health condition.  There are several barriers that keep patients from being able to get the help they need.  For many, the cost of mental health care is too high for them to be able to afford, and even for those with health insurance, many insurance plans do not provide coverage for mental health treatments, prescriptions, or services.  In addition to the cost, there is a severe shortage of mental healthcare providers.  It is estimated in the US there are 350 people that need mental healthcare for every 1 provider who is licensed to do so.  

There are several medications available for treating anxiety and depression, that is, if you are able to find an available healthcare provider to prescribe them.  The issue with these medications is that they can cause several unpleasant side effects, such as weight gain, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, increased anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.  The side effects can begin the first day you start taking an antidepressant, however, typically patients don’t start to notice any positive effects from taking an antidepressant until they have regularly taken the medication for at least 2 weeks.  To complicate matters further, if you are able to find a mental health care provider and you and your provider find a combination of medications that seems to work for you, sometimes changes in insurance coverage can change the medications you can afford without notice.  The United States has the highest rate of antidepressant use in the world, and even still, it is estimated that only one-third of people in the US with severe depression are taking an antidepressant medication.  

The good news is, several research studies have been published recently that investigate mindfulness as a treatment for anxiety and depression.  Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is an  effective, scientifically researched method for reducing physical and psychological distress while helping to develop resilience, balance, and peace of mind.  MBSR programs are based on the practices of meditation and mindfulness from Buddhism that have been used for over 2,500 years. Learning to practice mindfulness provides  a way of relating directly with whatever is happening in your life and taking charge of your life by consciously noticing and responding to your own stress and pain, and to the challenges and demands of everyday life.  Research studies have found that MBSR is as effective as taking Lexapro, a common medication for anxiety and depression.  The implications of this are hugely significant for mental health!  Instead of having to find a provider that is accepting patients, waiting for an appointment, living with side effects for two weeks before even knowing if the medication will work for you while hoping it doesn't cause weight gain, and paying for the medication every month, there is a simple, effective, and medication-free treatment that works just as well.   

Even if you’re not ready to make the commitment to a full 8 week MBSR course, there are several resources you can use to learn meditation and mindfulness techniques that can help with anxiety and depression.  Netflix offers a series called Headspace, which provides a good introduction to meditation, as well as several episodes with guided meditation for specific purposes such as dealing with stress, pain, or anger.  Stanford Healthcare also free resources for mindfulness and meditation on their website, and UCLA Health has an app for mindfulness that offers several free guided meditations in different languages.

 I do not recommend stopping any medication without speaking to your prescriber first about whether this is a safe option for you.  Even if you are already taking a medication for depression or anxiety, meditation and mindfulness techniques can be a way to improve your symptoms even more.  I do find it very encouraging that there is a medication free way to train your brain to decrease your anxiety and depression symptoms, and I would encourage anyone struggling with anxiety, depression, stress, and emotional eating to at least give meditation a try.  



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