It can be really easy to become depressed, if you are doing any kind of animal welfare work. Goodness knows how people doing undercover investigations cope. But for any of us who adore the animal kingdom, it can sometimes (no matter how positive we try to be) feel overwhelming, in a world where it seems the norm to have animals in a living hell, and often die traumatic deaths, often to be eaten on a plate (with the leftovers just thrown in the bin). Also see books to help your mental health.
What’s obvious is that we have to find ways to keep it together, because if you don’t put on your own oxygen mask when a plane gets decompression, you’re of no good to anyone else. So this post can hopefully help anyone who suffers with depression, but especially those who get depressed about the state of the world, and its lack of compassion for all creatures.
Depression can often be caused by a build-up of bad lifestyle habits, which have simply got out of hand (a glass of wine each evening turning into a bottle etc). See if there are any small adjustments you could make, say one a week. Don’t ‘add things’, just change lifestyle habits. This could be replacing wine with a herbal tea, taking a warm bath instead of watching depressing news, or taking up a new hobby (painting, reading) instead of staring at late-night TV, thinking everything’s hopeless.
Exercise to Help Depression
There is plenty of evidence that regular exercise can help depression. This can just be walking for 20 minutes each day in the fresh air. Better than rowing in a gym with pounding music, while watching depression rolling news.
If you don’t have a dog, consider volunteering for a local animal shelter to get you out on walks. The Cinnamon Trust is a nationwide charity that always needs volunteers to walk dogs of people who are elderly or disabled. This can do you both good, and dogs help you live in the present moment.
Adriene is the world’s most popular online yoga teacher, and offers hundreds of free videos. Her video Yoga for Depression is just 15 minutes long, which has over 1000 positive reviews.
Foods to Help Depression
There is no one perfect food to help depression. But obviously eating ‘fresh’ foods like fruits and vegetables is better than living on microwave ready-meals. Having said that, many people with depression are not really thinking about nutrition, so try to find easy swaps, for bad days. At least you then get some B vitamins during a depressive bout. Go for a bowl of porridge over sugary cereals, or nourishing soup over a plate of chips. This blueberry almond butter smoothie (Minimalist Baker) can help to quickly get some fresh fruit and protein/calcium into you, without any hassle.
Not everything can be solved by good food, but there is ample evidence that plant-based eating can sometimes help with various mental health issues. People who suffer with anxiety and depression often are not really in the mood to cook up food, but whizzing up a smoothie with fruits known to help your brain chemistry is something that most people can do within a few minutes, a good idea when you’re feeling blue. Leafy greens are good for mental health (check with a doctor if on medication).
A healthy plant-based lifestyle is all about self-care. So if you eat lots of fruits and vegetables and combine this with exercise, lots of water and sleep, you are sure to feel better physically, which can also help you to feel better mentally. Those who eat healthy plant-based diets also tend to have less chance of smoking and drinking excessive alcohol, both of which can help you to feel better all over.
Good mental health also stems with how you feel about yourself and the world. And if you are practicing compassion towards all beings, you are likely to feel that you are contributing more to world peace, rather than secretly feeling guilty for eating factory-farmed animals and contributing to a higher carbon footprint. Vegans tend to have to plan a little more too in order to eat well, rather than just being at the beck and call of big fast food chains and supermarkets, who put profit before welfare. If you put your welfare and the welfare of all beings before supermarket profits, you feel empowered – and that feels good!
You feel lighter. The choices you’re making are reducing the amount of animals being killed. I just think that puts you into a better place, for no matter what comes at you in life. Natasha Tyler, founder of The Kind Store
Mindfulness to Help Depression
- Self-Care (how to live mindfully and look after yourself) is a soothing collection of self-care ideas, whenever your mental energy is flagging. Gain strength from nature walks and healthy food, and treat yourself to slow evenings, face masks and hot soaks.
- Mindfulness Meditations for Depression is not written by a publisher taking advantage of buzzwords. It’s by a highly qualified therapist, who deals with patients who have depression. The 100 simple ideas are ideal to dip into without having to read a big boring book, all designed around acceptance, patience, trust and letting go. This book has super-reviews all-round and is less ‘religious’ than many meditation books.
- The A to Z of Mindfulness is a nice little guide by Anna Barnes, with bright watercolour paintings and a charming design, for a calming reading experience, when you don’t feel up to much. From accepting your thoughts to finding concrete helpful advice along with motivational words, this is a nice little book.
Where to Find Help for Depression
It’s often said that Sweden has the highest suicide rate, this is not true. Scandinavians are the happiest on earth overall, often because there is no social media culture (no disrespectful people tweeting condolences to bereaved families of celebrities), the governments protect people from cradle to grave, there is little organised ‘you’ll go to Hell!’ religion and a quiet intelligence. It also helps that Danes cycle as much as the Dutch, there’s a real outdoor life.
So how do you help? First, know that suicide is complicated, so don’t blame yourself if you can’t help always. But often it’s a build-up of many factors (people who attempt suicide say they don’t want to die, it’s more they want the pain to stop). The key word is often ‘trapped’ rather than ‘depressed’. Never tell someone who is depressed to ‘pull yourself together’ or ‘people are worse off than you’. Both are unkind and without empathy. People who are depressed are perfectly aware (and care) about the struggles of others. They don’t need others, adding guilt to depression. Here are some on where to find help for depression. The list is not exhaustive, but could help.
- IMAlive is an online crisis network. Staffed worldwide by trained volunteers, just go there now if you feel depressed or suicidal for instant chat and help.
- Maytree Clinic (London and soon Manchester) offers a free house where suicidal people can stay for a few days with trained volunteers. They get a home, bed, food, garden and chats with kind people who don’t judge. It has prevented a few suicides already, but only a few can stay at a time. It would be great to roll this out nationwide, and beyond.
- Attending a retreat centre may help. These are mostly run by monks and nuns who live in buildings with vast accommodation and beautiful grounds, but little money. So they offer affordable simple digs and if you help with washing up, you get to stay for a few days to feel at peace. Most accept people of all faiths and none.
- notOK app was invented by a sister (with depression) and her techy brother, who wanted to help. Just put in the names of emergency contacts, then press a digital alert panic button, if you don’t feel safe. It immediately alerts those nominated (with GPS location).
The NHS mostly offers (cognitive behaviour therapy). This has its critics as although it’s good for phobias and teaching you to think in a different way, most people with depression caused by trauma, guilt etc are not going to get ‘cured’ by drawing circles on a board, and numbering their depression from 1 to 10. CBT is used because it’s cheaper than individual talking therapy, which you may have to pay for, if you don’t want a long wait.
There are now lots of ‘online therapists’, which may help some. But talking over a laptop is likely not going to help someone feel less isolated, than go visiting a local priest, vicar or imam for a chat and a cup of tea. The Silverline has volunteers to chat to older people and you don’t have to be suicidal to call Samaritans though they are often overwhelmed with calls. Papyrus offers help for young people, and Support Line has a helpline, for people at risk of abuse.
Supplements for Mental Health
Nourished Inner Peace Stack is a meticulously formulated combination of 7 high-impact micro-nutrients and superfoods that are clinically proven to help support your mental health and wellbeing. The pack contains 28 edible gummy vitamins, designed to be taken daily. Each vitamin stack is coated in a delicious sugar-free sweet blackcurrant flavour. Made fresh to order, these use a patented vegan gel delivery system, for higher bioavailability of the actives inside, so they are absorbed five times faster into the bloodstream, than pills or capsules. If you live with pets, note some of their items (like the Colgate nutristacks) contain the pet-toxic sweetener xylitol, so keep these well away from animal friends, due to the sweet taste.
Talk to your doctor first, if pregnant/nursing or on medication. Side effects are not usually experienced, but if so, stop taking and talk to your GP. Keep away from pets and children. These brands are all sold in eco-friendly packaging.
- Feel Nootropics is a brand of vegan supplement, sold in compostable packaging. Designed to improve mood, calmness and mental clarity, this 100% natural formula is made with botanicals and based on ancient Japanese, Ayurvedic and Chinese knowledge and modern science. It contains 5HTP (a direct chemical precursor or serotonin – the ‘happiness molecule’, L-Theanine (to increase mental alertness), Bacopa Monnieri (to enhance memory and cognition) and Gotu Kola (to help minimise anxiety and stress).
- Dr Vegan Stay Calm supplement is developed by experts, and packaged in a metal tin. This is a unique blend of herbs, adaptogens and minerals to relieve anxiety and help your mind and body cope with stress. The 12 naturally sourced ingredients include ashwagandha, rhodiola and amino acids (L-Theanine and L-Tyrosine).
- Futurekind offers a range of vegan supplements for stress, with profits helping animals worldwide. Super Vegan is a blend of three evidence-based herbs to support stress and anxiety (ashwagandha, rhodiola and lemon balm) sold in eco packaging, with carbon offset. Ashwgandha has been called ‘ the king of Ayurvedic herbs’ and has been extensively studied for its impact to help stress. Rhodiola is another Ayurvedic herb where numerous trials suggest it can reduce ‘burnout’. And lemon balm has been used for over 2000 years to have a notable impact on inducing calmness.
‘Winter depression’ is caused by people who don’t produce enough melatonin and serotonin when there is not much sunlight. The NHS don’t supply SAD lamps as a rule, so most people are best taking brief walks during the daytime, making their homes light and airy, and sitting next to the windows, when possible. You can buy SAD lamps privately, but they are not in the budget of most people (often hundreds of pounds).
Avoid using a SAD lamp if you have eye conditions or your eyes are sensitive to sunlight, or if you are on medication that makes your eyes sensitive to sunlight (including St John’s Wort, see below).
Medication for Depression
There is a lot of controversy over some medications for depression. You don’t want a GP that doles out anti-depressants like sweets. But some people genuinely need them. If your GP recommends anti-depressants, ask if there are other options first like therapy or exercise prescriptions (see above). If you do go on anti-depressants, check in regularly to avoid long-term addiction, so you are safe to come off them, when the time is right. Recycle unused medications at your local pharmacy.
St John’s Wort is sometimes prescribed as a herbal alternative, but should not be used for people on some medications or the contraceptive pill, nor for pregnancy or nursing. For this reason, it’s best to have it prescribed from a GP, not by a health shop.
Helping Men with Depression
This is a time bomb now, that has already exploded. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 45, and yet still many men find it difficult to talk about mental health. Clarke Carlisle (‘Britain’s most intelligent footballer’) recently tried to kill himself by walking in front of a lorry. He survived – but was severely injured and traumatised not just the driver, but a fellow driver who witnessed it (who then killed himself, as he could not cope with the flashbacks). Clark now spends his life trying to help people who feel suicidal, and have those who don’t understand.
- Time to Talk is a book on how to encourage depressed men to share their feelings. Even though we live in a super-connected world, most men don’t open up about depression, which is why it’s presently the leading cause of death for men under 45. Alex Holmes shares his experience as a young black man, and offers a love letter to all men who have lost their way, and to the women that love them.
- Behind the Smile is a charity that can help people suffering with depression, and those bereaved if a relative has committed suicide. Founded by the parents of a son who killed himself after years of mental health issues, volunteers become part of peer support groups, that befriend people discharged from mental health services with face-to-face or telephone support, and also activities like creative writing, poetry sessions, art, tai chi, walks, meditation, bowling, mindfulness and memorial events.
- Man Down: A Guide for Men on Mental Health is a book to tell you that you are not alone: many men find it challenging to talk about their worries. This book covers depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, dealing with traditional gender expectations (man up!), self-care, mindfulness, how to open up and communicate, and where to seek help. Author Charlie Hoare has suffered himself in the past, which led him to studying Applied Positive Psychology. He moved from London to the coast, where he enjoys a daily (healing?) cold-water swim!
Books to Help Someone With Depression
- A Walk From The Wild Edge is the true story of how after coming terrifyingly close to suicide, one man decided to escape from the depths of depression, by walking 3,000 miles across Britain. With just a pair of walking boots and a backpack, he left his home town and began walking. And shares how his road to recovery (enhanced by the kindness of strangers) helped him better understand the power of human connection.
- The Wild Remedy is a lovely book by Emma Mitchell, who has suffered with depression for 25 years. So she moved from the city to the edge of the Cambridgeshire Fens, and began to take walks in the countryside near her home – photographing and drawing as she went. In this hand-illustrated diary, Emma takes us with her as she follows local paths and trails, sharing her nature finds over the course of a year. Reflecting on how these encounters impacts her mood, this candid account of her own struggles is a powerful testament to how reconnecting with nature can be as medicinal, as any walking therapy or pharmaceutical.
- How to Come Alive Again is a crowdfunded guide for anyone who is living in the shadows, sleeping through years of life or done things you can’t tell the world. It doesn’t matter if you’re an anxious mess with a shouty monster brain that keeps you from conforming to society’s definition of normal. This honey, joyous and practical guide for anyone with mental illness (or anyone who knows and loves someone who does) is for you. Beth McColl shares what’s worked for her and what’s hasn’t. And writes the advice she wished she had known from the start – from how to get through a bad day to the truth about medication.
- Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess offers 5 steps to help find and eliminate the roots of anxiety, depression and intrusive thoughts, for better mental and physical health. In just 21 days, you can start on the road to wholeness and peace. Dr Caroline Leaf offers a plan backed by clinical research, and illustrated with compelling case studies.
We can die of cancer, high blood pressure, heart attacks, aneurysms. These are physical sicknesses. But we can suffer these as well in the soul. In most cases, suicide is the emotional equivalent of cancer, a stroke, or a heart attack. Like any terminal illness, suicide takes a person out of life against his or her will. The death is not freely chosen, far from an act of free will. In most instances, suicide is a desperate attempt to end unendurable pain, much like a man who throws himself through a window because his clothing is on fire. Father Ronald Rolheiser
Music Break: Beautiful Madness
Michael Patrick Kelly is Irish but has lived most of his life in Germany, where his family became like ‘the German Osmonds’. After suffering depression, he gave up music to train as a Catholic priest, and just before being ordained, he was told ‘go back to your music and find a good woman’, so he did! He almost committed suicide but found help through therapy and faith and hopes you can do the same.