Over the past six years, the number of antidepressants prescribed to New Zealanders has doubled, sending 1 in 10 Kiwis on routine trips to local pharmacies for drugs such as Zoloft and Prozac. And as big-name pharmaceutical companies continue to pocket millions from these sales, some wellness professionals are beginning to question whether a daily dosage of pills is an effective solution to the complex issues facing those suffering from mental health problems.
For many people diagnosed with depression and other mood-related issues, the answer is no, according to integrative medicine specialist Dr. Kathleen Wills.
"Alternative treatments can actually be more affective for depression," says Wills, author of Beat Burnout: Dr. Kathleen's Holistic Guide to Happiness!.
Prior to the book's launch in May, Wills spoke at Auckland's ecostore Shop to share some of her natural remedies for depression and advice for living well, including drug alternatives and helpful changes to diet and lifestyle.
While acknowledging that antidepressants can certainly be lifesavers for people in emergency situations facing extreme depression and thoughts of suicide, Wills notes that antidepressants are not always necessary for people suffering from low mood.
"The scary thing is, antidepressants are actually prescribed to people who don't actually need antidepressants," says Wills.
In a survey of 700 Americans prescribed with antidepressants, more than 70 per cent of participants did not show depressive symptoms. Research has indicated that these drugs are often no more effective than their placebo.
Physiological factors leading to low mood, such as anxiety, gastrointestinal dysfunction, hormonal imbalances, nutrient deficiencies and adrenal and chronic fatigue syndrome are often misdiagnosed as depression, Wills says.
Natural mood-boosters include turmeric, Theanine, St. John's wart, 5-HTP and Wills' personal favourite S-Adenosyl methionine, or SAM-e, a drug-free dietary supplement that increases serotonin levels in the brain without the negative side effects of antidepressants like weight gain and fatigue.
Wills also recommends taking a neurotransmitter test, a simple take home urine test that can be helpful in determining if prescribed antidepressants are working and pinpointing neurological insufficiencies.
Adding more foods to your diet containing omega 3 fatty acids and fish oil as well as vitamins B and D may also help to heighten mood, says Wills. Research has found these are often key ingredients in "mood foods" such as brazil nuts, mackerel, salmon, oats, brown rice, bananas, poultry, spinach and water.
Simple lifestyle changes may also be helpful in combating the blues. Wills suggests regular exercise, occasional massages to de-stress, use of solar lamps during the winter months, and practice of mindfulness with routine meditation.
For those suffering from issues with mental health, Wills emphasizes that perhaps the two most crucial factors for well being are surrounding oneself with positive people and confronting any deep-rooted emotional issues that might be present.
"We can't just bring it all down to biochemistry," Wills says. "A lot of it has to do with holding down emotions that we've been feeling inside. Maybe something happened to us when we were little-- maybe we were traumatized by something. It's really important to flush that out of your body."