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A thorough discussion of alternative treatments for depression and bipolar disorder including lifestyle changes, EMDR, neurofeedback, and amino acid supplements.

Over the past 50 years, psychiatric drugs have become the major tools for treating mental illness. The first tranquilizers, introduced in 1952, have been followed nearly every decade since by a new class of drugs, the latest being antidepressants. While drugs were a godsend compared to the standard (and now seemingly barbaric) therapies of the 1930s—induced insulin coma, electroshock, and lobotomy—their shortcomings and dangers have become increasingly clear.

Fifty percent of depressed and bipolar patients experience no improvement with antidepressants. Of those who find relief, half go off their "meds" because of the unbearable side effects: Psychiatric drugs often cause a 30- to 60-pound weight gain, 58 percent report some level of sexual dysfunction, 40 percent develop tics or muscle spasms from major tranquilizers, and significant numbers report increased agitation, depression, mania, or suicidal urges. Other unadvertised, potential dangers include increased risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, invasive ovarian cancer, and lung and bladder cancers; doubled risk of heart attack; elevated risk for developing Type 2 diabetes; and, in children, increased mania, suicide, and stunted or delayed growth.

And yet in the face of this prescription onslaught, mounting evidence indicates that depression, bipolar, and other mood disorders are caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. While there's not much anyone can do to alter the genes they've inherited, holistic approaches to the other two factors can lead to safer ways of managing these conditions.

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Rule out Underlying Causes

Finding relief from the symptoms associated with mood disorders is a process that starts with addressing various physical issues. The biggest step many of us can take toward mental health involves getting our bodies into the best shape possible. This requires skilled sleuthing by the patient and experienced practitioners. The goal? To identify and eliminate common underlying causes of mental illness, such as environmental toxins, medications, diseases, low or imbalanced hormones, food allergies, parasites, and candida yeast.

  • A thorough discussion of alternative treatments for depression and bipolar disorder including lifestyle changes, EMDR, neurofeedback, and amino acid supplements.Get a complete physical, and ask your healthcare provider to review all your prescriptions and any illnesses you may have for mood disorder side effects. Order some or all of the tests below, using the knowledge of your history and symptoms to gauge which of them will most likely identify potential culprits.
  • Make sure you're taking the basics. These include high potency vitamin, mineral, and amino acid supplements (see below) and fish oils to ensure the brain has adequate supplies of the raw materials it needs to function properly and override genetic errors or digestive flaws.
  • Avoid unhealthy foods and lifestyle choices. Start by eliminating the "bad" fats. Fried foods, hydrogenated oils, and trans fats clog up the body's intricate systems and contribute to systemic inflammation. Replace these bad actors with the "good" fats required for health, such as fish, olive, vegetable, nut, and seed oils.
  • Cut out any and all substances that affect your mind. This may sound like a no-brainer, but stop using street drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, and either cut way back or eliminate caffeine, refined sugar, chocolate, artificial sweeteners, and monosodium glutamate.

Some mood disorders, those triggered by emotional trauma or produced by abnormal brain-wave patterns, remain immune to biological remedies. However, two nondrug therapies, Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR) and neurofeedback have shown remarkable rates of success.

The Eyes Have It

Traumatic experiences, such as rape, sexual or physical abuse, war experiences, or being the victim of a violent crime or terrifying accident may cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms may include depression, anxiety attacks, rage or aggressive behavior, suicidal tendencies, substance abuse, terrifying nightmares, and visual flashbacks in which the person re-experiences some of the emotions and sensations from the original trauma.

Francine Shapiro, PhD, a senior research fellow at the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California, developed EMDR after she noticed her own stress reactions diminish when her eyes swept back and forth while walking through a park. During treatment, a therapist asks patients to identify a vivid visual image related to the incident, along with related emotions and body sensations. While focusing on the image, negative thoughts, or sensations, patients simultaneously move their eyes back and forth, following the therapist's fingers across their field of vision, for 20 to 30 seconds.

Patients are next told to "let their mind go," observing whatever thought, feeling, image, memory, or sensation surfaces. The therapist helps them "process the association"—and deal with any distress the images may cause—before moving on to the next focus. The primary objective is to "reprogram" the emotional brain so it stops continuing to react based on past experiences.

In 2002, The Journal of Clinical Psychology reported that 70 percent of EMDR participants achieved results in three active treatment sessions. It is one of four therapies given the highest recommendation by the US Department of Veterans Affairs guidelines for PTSD.