In preparing his new book, Back From The Brink: true stories and practical help for overcoming depression and bipolar, Graeme Cowan asked 4064 people who had lived with depression or bipolar, what worked best in their recovery.
His survey included most commonly used medications and psychological techniques, but also included a number of lifestyle strategies - 60 options in total.
These were the top 10 (the highest rating medication came in at number 23):
- Emotional support from psychiatrist and/or psychologist – Interestingly, the reassurance and support from mental health professionals was rated more important than the specific treatment they provided. If you don’t sense your professional cares about you and your recovery, Cowan recommends finding another.
- Peer support groups - These groups are run by people who have all lived with depression, bipolar, or anxiety. The members are at different stages of recovery, and encourage each other to take small steps each week that assist in recovery.
- Moderate and vigorous exercise – Moderate (30 minutes brisk walk 4-6 days per week or equivalent) and vigorous (running for 30 minutes 4-6 days per week or equivalent) were both rated as highly effective for recovery.
- Other psychotherapy - involving a process whereby the therapist helps you explore and resolve issues related to past experiences and/or your personality style.
- Fulfilling work - paid or voluntary - This surprising finding reinforces a study by the Gallup organisation, that work is essential to our wellbeing. It also highlights how important it is for someone on stress leave to return to work ASAP.
- Counselling - not about exploring unresolved themes; a practical process, in which the counsellor may take an educational approach, and involves you and the counsellor discussing strategies for dealing better with day-to-day life.
- Emotional support from family and friends – Even though loved ones often feel that they are pushed away by the depressed person, Cowan says this result highlights how essential their compassion and care are.
- A good night’s sleep – one of the common symptoms of depression is early wakening or a disturbance to normal sleep patterns. This result shows that depressed people should seek professional help to address this.
- Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)—focuses on changing negative thought patterns and usually involves doing structured homework tasks, and is normally taught by a psychologist.
- Reducing intake of alcohol and other non-prescription drugs – Many people with depression self-medicate with alcohol and other illicit drugs, to alleviate symptoms. Ironically, whilst there can be short term relief; ultimately excessive consumption of these drugs is unhelpful.
A free chapter from Cowan’s book which shows the full results of the research, plus the opportunity to enrol in a 30 Day Mood Boost Challenge which includes daily insights from this research, can be accessed from www.IamBackFromTheBrink.com
Cowan began this research because between 2000-2005, he went through the worst episode of depression his psychiatrist had ever treated. During that period he had four suicide attempts, tried 23 different medications, underwent ECT (shock therapy) on 20 occasions, tried transcranial magnetic stimulation, engaged in cognitive behavioural therapy, and participated in many other conventional programs for the treatment of depression. After a long path to recovery, he was left feeling that the traditional medical approach to depression was incomplete, especially when the default treatment has become the prescribing of anti-depressants.