Previous me from five years ago would have never thought present-day me would be writing about mental health. That version of myself thought therapy was for problems my family was never going to have, that it was good that we had settled into the necessary rut of modern day living of a daily routine of work then video games.
Then I was forced to think differently when I had a life upheaval of having graduated grad school at the same time my wife moved out. I spent months upon months casting a wide net over the current research to answer the question ‘What went wrong?’ This research is a wonderful distillation of the most effective positive changes one can implement quickly and have the effects last permanently.
Besides my own experiences into the throes of poor mental health, the most compelling evidence of the efficacy of this research for me is that of anthropologist Edward Schieffelin who studied the society of ~2,000 Kaluli aboriginals of Papua New Guinea. When diagnosing them according to the DSM, he found only one marginal case of depression. Americans, on the other hand, have one quarter of the population suffer from depression, and that rate has doubled in the past decade alone, despite the increase of antidepressant medication use.
A friend of one of Dr. Ilardi’s patients has a compelling story about battling Hodgkin’s Lymphoma versus depression. While taking chemo treatments, people would rally around him saying ‘You’re so brave’, and ‘We’re here for you’. But when battling depression, people would say things like ‘Snap out of it’ as if he didn’t want to feel better. The most fascinating quote for me is when he is comparing the two experiences, saying ‘Chemo is brutal, but I would take it over another another round of depression.’
“We were never designed for the sedentary, fast food laden, sleep deprived, indoor, socially isolated, frenetic pace of modern life,” Dr Ilardi hammers home while talking about his book The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs. He identifies six major protective lifestyle elements we can reclaim from our ancestors:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
My dose: 6,000 mg fish oil/day (1,800 mg DHA and EPA)
Omega-3’s build anti inflammatory hormones and as Ilardi says, “The inflamed brain is a depressed brain.” The human body is supposed to have an Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio of 1:1, we can get by with 2:1, maybe 3:1. The typical American diet makes a 17:1 ratio in the body, one cause being grain-fed instead of grass-fed meat.
He suggests to take 1,000 mg EPA/day, and that DHA doesn’t work so well toward an antidepressant effect. Though it does help me be closer to my dog, as fish burps in the morning make him rush me to lick my face. Upon going over this research again, fish burps show rancid fish oil, probably processed under oxygen, and is not psychoactive. I’m going to have to change from the generic BJ’s brand.
My dose: Wife, children, career, side business(es), one thank you per day, …
I feel like I now don’t have time to get depressed. There’s so much to do with advancing my IT career, attending to my growing family with a 13 month old and another due in 6 months, fixing up the house, running my side business, helping my wife with her side business. I wake up at 4:30, and I am go: putting away the previous night’s dishes, making bottles for the day, and prepping the workout with my wife at 5am. I’m also trying to keep up with a gratefulness exercise where I send a kind message to someone I’m thinking of during the day.
My dose: 15 minutes every morning with my wife, rest on Sundays
My current avenue is Jordan Yeoh tabata workouts (we love the timer and music), 3 circuits, 20 seconds on, 10 seconds rest (active rest if feeling particularly masochistic). That’s it, we don’t have time for anything else right now, though I’m sure once our darling daughter is a runner we will receive much more cardio.
My dose: 10,000 IU Vitamin D/day
This is the fastest known antidepressant with a response of only 5 to 7 days, and one of the most widespread with 1 out of 3 Americans affected by Seasonal Affect Disorder. With the IT career I have, I know I don’t get outside nearly as much as I should, so I chemically supplement the vitamin D I would be creating. In reviewing this research I realize I have been forgetting the optical stimulation as part of this protective element.
My dose: Work in progress
I prepare for the day in the mornings – alone. I commute to work for an hour each way – alone. I do most of my work at the computer – alone. And I am writing this after the family has gone to bed, again – alone. Weekends are the only time to actually connect with others outside of work, and all that time is taken up with family at the moment. I know we will be more social as our kids get older and want to do their own activities, it’s just rough right now.
My dose: 7.5 hours/night, 9pm-4:30am
Adults work best with 90 minute sleep cycles, I find I work best with 5 sleep cycles which works out to 450 minutes, or 7.5 hours. If I really need to cut into sleep time, I’ll go for 4.5-5 hours, and make sure the next night is the usual full night of sleep.