Is it faux depression?

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Where I live, the Thames riverside is gorgeous at the moment, lined with golden leafed trees. But let’s not forget that these are also a sign that we are in the season of melancholy – the time when, once the clocks change, next week, we will all start talking about SAD – even if we don’t actually suffer from it ourselves.

It is a condition that is supposedly relieved by a bit of extra vitamin D and sunshine, or light treatment, but there are many other causes of faux depression too.

It could be your hormones

We all know about PMS – but in its most severe form, it can be mistaken for clinical depression, with weepiness, loss of self-confidence, energy and libido. Unfortunately no amount of antidepressants will help – and your condition will just continue to get worse. Suspect your hormones if you were well balanced in pregnancy but then suffered postnatal depression, and dramatic mood swings (sometimes mistaken for bipolar disorder) or a permanent dip in mood after having your baby. The pattern of mood changes isn’t always clearly linked to your period when it’s this severe, but treatment with oestrogen gel together with testosterone and seven days of progesterone pills a month stabilises hormones and successfully treats this type of depression, according to Professor John Studd of the London PMS and Menopause Centre.

You may need a test for vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 (from animal products such as fish, meat, poultry, eggs and milk) helps with the manufacture of key brain chemicals affecting mood, and if you’re not getting enough from your diet, this can leave you feeling weepy and drained with mood swings, poor concentration, and fear of social situations. Again, classic symptoms of depression! Some people develop an inability to absorb B12 from the digestive tract – a condition known as Pernicious Anaemia, which has to be diagnosed by a specific blood test. ‘In an ideal world everyone going to their doctor with symptoms of depression should be tested for B12 deficiency,’ says Carrie-Anne Carr of the Pernicious Anaemia Society. ‘Three of our members have been sectioned when all they needed was B12 treatment. It costs the NHS about 26p to give a B12 injection (ideally once a month if you need it), compared to £26 for a month’s supply of antidepressants you don’t really need. The next best thing to an injection is a B12 lozenge that melts under the tongue, fast tracking it into your bloodstream.’

You could just need to get out more…

When you miss out on exercise, you also miss out on the cascade of feel good endorphins that it triggers. Research shows that a brisk 20-30 minute walk works as well as a mild tranquillizer, and the mental health charity Mind says research regular supervised exercise is proven to be just as effective as antidepressants for mild to moderate depression. Tip: walk outdoors – it’s twice as likely to boost your mood as indoor exercise according to a Mind study.

You’ve got a sweet tooth

Too much sugar leads to blood sugar highs and lows – and the lows are associated with big dips in mood, as well as cravings for more sugar, warns Patrick Holford, author of ‘Say No To Diabetes’ (£13.99 Piatkus). ‘The worse your blood sugar balance, the worse their mood will be – and diabetics, whose condition makes it difficult to control blood sugar, have a very high rate of depression. Sugar cravings can be brought on by a dip in levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which is made from the natural amino acid 5-HTP. Taking a 5-HTP supplement (eg Biocare 5-HTP, £17.50 for 60 capsules) can dramatically improve both your mood – and your craving for sugar.’

Maybe you’re not eating enough fat

Or at least not enough of the right type of fat. ‘Modern diets are rich in omega-6 (from processed foods, biscuits etc) and often low in long-chain omega-3 fats and this imbalance can leave us deficient in mood-regulating ‘good fats’ such as EPA,’ says Nutrition Scientist Dr Nina Bailey, Nutrition Scientist. ‘You need sufficient levels of EPA to create feel-good chemicals tryptophan and serotonin. The prescription-strength supplement Vegepa E-EPA 70, £13.99 for 60 capsules – available from www.vegepa.com,www.vegepa.com, has been shown to be as effective as antidepressants. As with conventional medication, however, dosage is essential – 1 gram daily for a minimum of three months is required for therapeutic effects.’

Or it’s because you’re already taking other medicines…

An A-Z of common medicines list depression as a possible but undesirable side effect – including many for heart disease, high blood pressure and cholesterol, and even some drugs used for anxiety, says pharmacist Shaina Shipton, who’s co-founder of OneClickPharmacy.co.uk. ‘If you suspect you’re depressed as a result of something you’re taking, ask your pharmacist for a Yellow Card form to report an adverse reaction to the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority (MHRA), visit your doctor as soon as possible for advice (eg reducing the drug or finding an alternative), and don’t stop taking the medication unless your doctor advises this.

And if you do just need more sunshine…

We get vitamin D from sunshine, and SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is notorious for affecting 1 in 50 people during the winter months, with as many as 1 in 8 getting a milder form of winter blues. But experts now realise that even in the summer months it’s hard for Brits to get enough vitamin D from sunshine, and research has shown that half of us have insufficient levels – and this is especially the case if you’re depressed, says women’s health guru Dr Marilyn Glenville. ‘You may also be more likely to develop PMS if you are lacking in vitamin D, so top up with a good multivitamin eg NHP’s Healthy Woman Support (£22.97 for 60 capsules from health shops) which contains 400iu of vitamin D3.’