How to Treat Depression Naturally: 3 Key Nutritional Elements You Could Be Missing

I’ve written before about my mental break almost three years ago and my suicidal thoughts on this blog.

What I didn’t talk about in that article was antidepressants and my views on how to treat depression naturally.

I’m straight edge and have a super weird attitude about drugs and alcohol. I’ve never been drunk, never smoked anything ever, and have never taken recreational drugs. As a result of my misdiagnosed autoimmune disorder almost 13 years ago, I also have a very weird attitude about pharmaceutical drugs.

That being said, I don’t believe in taking any type of medication unless it’s more or less a life-or-death situation. This is just my personal philosophy.

Instead of taking medications for things that I personally feel can be treated naturally, I’ve compiled this list of three hugely helpful things that have made all the difference for my mental health when it comes to how to treat depression naturally.

Please note: I am not a doctor, herbalist, or nutritionist. This article is not intended to diagnose any type of illness or offer treatment advice for your particular case. Please consult with your qualified healthcare practitioner about your mental health!

1. Omega-3s

I really can’t say how much I feel omega-3s have helped both my mental and physical health. Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that are absolutely crucial to proper brain function.

Though many people say the evidence isn’t concrete enoughpeer-reviewed research shows that mental health professionals “should at least ensure adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids among patients with major depressive disorder (MDD)”.

There are three types of omega-3s when it comes to humans:

  1. A-linolenic acid (ALA), which is found in certain plant-based foods such as flaxseed and walnuts.
  2. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which is found in fish.
  3. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is also found in fish.

While, of course, I would love to sit here and say that vegan sources of omega-3 are the best when it comes to how to treat depression naturally, the fact is that they simply aren’t. Studies show that our brains are designed to function best on omega-3s from fish. 

Your body can convert ALA to EPA and DHA, but the conversion rate has been shown to be rather poor. What this means is that you’d have to eat A LOT of walnuts, avocados, and flaxseed to get even a fraction of the amount of EPA and DHA you would get from fish (although all of these foods are generally excellent for your health!).

I’ve tried to eat cans of sardines in an effort to boost my fatty acid intake without a supplement, but I’m here to tell ya, it’s just not for me, and I’m guessing it won’t be for you either!

So taking a quality omega-3 supplement makes a lot more sense for many people. But what dose is best?

In his book The New Optimum Nutrition Bible, Patrick Holford, founder of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, suggests that omega-3 fish oil supplements containing 1,200 mg of EPA a day are best for people with depression, compared to a standard dose of 350 mg each of EPA and DHA.

Personally, I take Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega 2X every day. I just take one capsule (which fulfills the requirements of 350 mg each of EPA and DHA), but the serving size says two capsules, which you could easily take if you were looking for a higher dose of these essential fatty acids!

Yes, they’re more expensive than some supplements, but I would absolutely advocate for these over cheaper versions of omega-3s! Plus, what is your mental health worth?

2. Probiotics

I didn’t really know what I was missing in life until I found out about probiotics.

These helpful bacteria exist in your gut and play a major role in your health, especially when it comes to how to treat depression naturally.

Your gut is intimately connected to your brain in what’s called the “brain-gut” axis. Ignoring the link between our gut health and our brains could have negative repercussions for some people with depression and anxiety.

Established research so far shows mixed results on the link between probiotics and mental health. However, there are other studies that demonstrate their benefit.

For example, a review of evidence on probiotics and mental health disorders showed that “probiotics and prebiotics might improve mental health function”.

Another study shows that “the evidence for probiotics alleviating depressive symptoms is compelling”; however, the research did note that more evidence is needed.

Other research showed that regulating gut bacteria through probiotics helped improved symptoms of anxiety. 

I’d argue that probiotics are absolutely worth a try when it comes to managing your mental health and even your physical health.

But where can you find probiotics?

Probiotics exist in fermented foods, including:

  • Miso
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kombucha
  • Natto
  • Yogurt
  • Water kefir

I‘m a huge fan of all these foods; however, I do not eat dairy (for ethical and health reasons). There are so many negative sides to dairy, even outside of the horrific way it’s produced—I would encourage you to get plant-based sources of yogurt, which are just as delicious and won’t give you acne!

However, if you’re having trouble getting at least one of these foods (or drinks—heyyyy kombucha!) every day, you could consider a supplement. However, beware: many probiotics supplements contain dairy, YES, even ones that say milk-free (I wrote a rant about that here.) 

This is the supplement I take for probiotics; I called the company to confirm they are vegan, but that was a few years ago. I would encourage you to do your own research!

However, these days I typically just try to get probiotics through food every day and rarely take a supplement.

Side note: Most herbalists I have spoken with advocate for getting probiotics through food, saying that you simply can’t confirm the integrity of a supplement due to manufacturing methods and that foods provide a much better source.

Also, it’s important to be careful about probiotics–many herbalists consider them to be medicine and there’s no need to go overboard on the amount you consume (for example, there’s no reason to drink a gallon of kombucha every day!).

3. Vitamin D

Over a billion people worldwide are deficient in vitamin D. Deficiency in this essential vitamin has been shown to play a role in autoimmune disorders, gum disease, and 17 different types of cancers, among many other health conditions.

Vitamin D deficiency is also “highly prevalent” in teenagers with severe mental illness. Study after study shows how crucial vitamin D is to our mental health, which could make it an influential supplement when considering how to treat depression naturally.

One study noted that “effective detection and treatment of inadequate vitamin D levels in persons with depression and other mental health disorders may be an easy and cost-effective therapy which could improve patients’ long-term health outcomes as well as their quality of life”.

But how much vitamin D should you take?

Patrick Holford suggests a minimum of 400 IU a day; however, other research showed benefits with as much as 1,500-5,000 IU daily for people with depression.

You’ll want to get your vitamin D levels tested by your doctor to show if you’re deficient and get a recommendation of how much to take!

Where can you get vitamin D naturally?

Humans make vitamin D in their bodies through sunlight exposure, so the more sunlight you get, the more vitamin D you’re likely to have in your body.

However, some people are naturally more deficient in vitamin D, and may still need to supplement even if they are getting the recommended sunlight exposure each day.

Foods that contain vitamin D include:

  • Mushrooms
  • Egg yolks
  • Fish
  • Beef liver

Obviously, these aren’t foods that everyone likes to eat (myself included). Talk to your doctor about a supplement if you need one!

(I do supplement with vitamin D when needed with both a vegan and non-vegan supplement: I take fermented cod liver oil and this vegan supplement. Currently, I’m looking for a better supplement and am researching some options that my integrative health doctor recommended to me. I will update this article when I find one I like!)

Why Shouldn’t I Just Take an Antidepressant?

I’m not a doctor, and I am absolutely not here to tell you whether you should or should not take an antidepressant.

As someone who has never taken any type of antidepressant or antianxiety medication, I can’t say how these medications affect you and can’t tell you whether or not you should take them or consider how to treat depression naturally.

I am, however, an advocate for natural health, and it’s my personal belief that the majority of our modern health problems can be treated through diet, exercise, and herbs. 

Antidepressants can also have major side effects, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Premature delivery and low birth weight of babies
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Weight gain

Above all, I would argue for getting tested with your doctor to see if you’re deficient in anything and considering supplements before going on a medication that changes your brain chemistry and has the potential for serious side effects.

And even if you are on medication and choose to stay on your medication, these supplements may be helpful to you or may support the outcome of your meds, so talk to your doctor about them!

The Bottom Line

How you deal with your mental health is a personal choice, and no one should judge you for it.

There are so many aspects that could play a role in your depression, from genetics to your diet to your environment. Of course, these three nutritional components are only part of the picture—but together, they could make a big difference to your wellbeing!

I deal with the daily stressors of life and my social anxiety by exercising, eating healthy, meditating, and reading. Everyone is different, and what works for me may not work for you. However, if you’re considering how to treat depression naturally, consider these three essential supplements—you could be missing a big piece of your mental health!

6 Ways Feeling Suicidal Changed My Life

Note: Before reading this article, please be aware that I discuss sensitive topics such as suicide and self-harm that may be triggering for some people. If you are sensitive to these topics, you may want to consider not reading this article. Please use your discretion before continuing.

In September 2017, I experienced what I now describe as a mental break where I saw something traumatic to me and it impacted me in a profound way.

(I don’t see the point in recounting what I saw here. It does not matter. Everyone’s triggers will be different.)

The next day, I felt utterly hopeless and like I wanted to die.

It was a normal day, except it wasn’t. I actually went shopping at Costco with my mom that morning. It was raining and I was wearing a blue hemp kaftan and had frankincense and myrrh essential oil in my hair. As we walked into the store, I told her a funny story my neighbor had told me, and we doubled over laughing.

I laughed so hard.

And yet, there was a darkness inside me that I couldn’t shake.

Later that evening, as my then-fiancé and I sat on my front porch after dinner, I cried and told him that I felt like I didn’t just want to die, but that I needed to die. We were both afraid, and he held my hand as I told him how I felt.

I felt like nothing mattered. Despite having an amazing family, a wonderful fiancé, two jobs I loved, and four adorable bunnies that gave my life purpose, I felt like none of it mattered and that I needed to kill myself because the world wasn’t ever going to be right and I couldn’t be a part of it anymore.

My newest rescue bunny, Hava Dalal.

So this article is about the isolation I felt while experiencing these feelings and how they changed my life.

I Felt Like I Could Talk to No One (And to This Day, Haven’t Talked to Anyone Besides My Husband About These Feelings)

I’m ready for the criticism on this.

It seems like anytime someone says they’re having feelings of hurting themselves or killing themselves, the immediate reaction is that they are in danger and that they need to:

a) get professional help (such as from a therapist, psychiatrist, psychologist, etc.)

b) call the Suicide Hotline

c) be admitted to the psychiatric unit of the hospital

I didn’t do any of these things.

In fact, I was afraid to talk to anyone about these feelings. I didn’t talk to anyone besides my now-husband. I tried to talk to my best friend about them, but she has issues with talking about death and so couldn’t talk with me about it. (I completely respect her choices and do not have negative feelings towards her about this.)

So my husband heard everything.

We talked about getting me professional help when my feelings and thoughts didn’t get better. I talked about killing myself for months. I felt depressed about the world (I’m an empath; if you don’t know what that is, you can read an article I wrote about it here. It’ll make a lot of sense why I felt this way if you understand what an empath is). I felt like I couldn’t be here anymore even though if nothing else, my bunnies needed me to take care of them.

One of my adorable rescue bunnies, Fiver Kadeem.

I didn’t self-harm and hadn’t self-harmed anytime in the last several years, but I thought about how I would kill myself. I felt like I “couldn’t” kill myself because I wouldn’t be able to carry out the act of doing it, but some hours, I felt like I had to.

Sometimes I would get home late at night and think about hurting myself, or feel like I needed to hurt myself. I talked with my then-fiancé about all these feelings. He was worried, but he knew I trusted him and didn’t reach out to anyone about my feelings (I suspected he Googled a lot, though).

Were These Feelings “Bad”?

I realize how “bad” all this sounds. But I also realize there are other people out there who feel like this every day and feel like they can’t talk to anybody about it because it will be taken the wrong way. By being “taken the wrong way”, I mean that their feelings won’t be accepted as normal and that they’ll be treated differently for experiencing these feelings.

I am an adult. I am a person. It’s my personal choice whether or not to seek professional help. I have resources and a network of people who could help me if I chose. I ultimately chose not to speak to anyone else besides my husband because I felt like no one would truly understand. I was also afraid of not only being judged, but of people encouraging me to “seek help” (thinking they know what’s best for me) or treating me differently because of my experience.

I came to realize that these feelings weren’t bad. They were how I felt. It was neither good nor bad that I felt like I wanted to die. I couldn’t keep labeling myself or my feelings. It wasn’t serving any purpose. Was I suicidal? Was I depressed? Maybe. But it wasn’t going to do any good labeling myself those things while I was experiencing my mental break.

A Little History

This wasn’t the first time I’d thought about killing myself. But it was the first time that I seriously considered it.

At the age of 13 and a self-proclaimed atheist (you can read more about that here), I didn’t really see the point of living if we were all just going to die anyway.

I thought about killing myself and thought that eventually that was something I might do. But I never had any real desire to die and eventually stopped thinking about it. I realized that I was a teenager and my life would—hopefully—get better once I was an adult and could do whatever I wanted (it did!).

The break I experienced in 2017 was a completely different thing.

I don’t know if deep down I necessarily wanted to die, but felt like I needed to die. I had a rough plan for how I’d kill myself, though I knew the chances of me following through with it were slim.

I was in a place where I felt like nothing mattered. I felt extremely apathetic and that was scary. I felt like it didn’t matter if I killed myself or not. I simply felt like I couldn’t deal with the world and didn’t want to be here anymore.

I’m the type of person who wishes I didn’t exist because as an empath, the world can be very hurtful to me and sometimes I truly feel like I can’t take it (this is also one of the major reasons I’ve decided not to have children—I’m anti-natalist—among many other reasons).

My husband and I talk about death all the time and are aware that one day we are both going to die, and while this thought is saddening, it’s also liberating knowing I won’t be on this planet forever, and it makes me appreciate my time here more.

Ultimately, however, I feel like the fact that nothing mattered actually led me to keep going.

How My Desire to Die Impacted My Daily Life

Feeling like you want to die changes things. I no longer felt any need to be happy or pretend to be happy about life. I no longer felt like I could do things I didn’t want to do. I actually felt like I couldn’t do these things.

No longer caring made things simple. Not easy, but simple. If I wanted something, I bought it. If I didn’t want to do something, I said no. There was no longer any agonizing over my choices. Who cared?

So the following life changes happened.

1. I Cut Out Friends

I dropped one of my friends during this time (not the one that didn’t want to talk to me about death, she is my best friend). I no longer enjoyed spending time with her even before my break and truly felt like I could not hang out with her anymore after my break. It wasn’t personal. I just couldn’t pretend anymore with the way I felt.

2. I Stopped Spending Holidays with Dysfunctional Family Members

I could no longer spend dysfunctional holidays with my Catholic extended family, which I had been doing forever and never truly enjoyed it. Again, I felt like I literally could not do it. So I copped out of the three dreadful holidays every year I would spend with them.

There was a silver lining to this. Not doing things I didn’t want to do made me much happier. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I now feel relief that I’ve been making conscious choices about what to do with my time. How I spend my time now is very important to me since I’ve had these feelings about dying, perhaps because I’m more aware of how limited my time really is.

3. My Sex Life Went to Shit

My feelings of wanting to die combined with the traumatic thing I witnessed made sex feel really hard. I felt like I couldn’t enjoy it or didn’t deserve to enjoy it because of all the horrible things happening in the world. I also kept having “flashbacks” of the trauma during sex. It was truly awful. It took a long time to get our sex life back on track.

4. I Spent More Money

My feelings made things that used to matter not matter anymore. For instance, I no longer cared about money. I bought whatever I wanted because I felt like it didn’t matter. If I bought something that brought me joy, could I really put a price on that at this point in my life? (This is a dangerous mindset to have when you’re on a budget—not to mention when you’re a freelancer that owes buku taxes at the end of every year.)

5. I Ate More Food

I also felt like it didn’t matter what I ate, although I generally eat really healthy, if I do say so myself. Who cared if I weighed 130 pounds or 230? Did it really matter? I ate a lot of gluten-free cinnamon raisin toast and vegan cream cheese during this time (I later dropped the few extra pounds I gained before my wedding with intermittent fasting).

6. I Appreciated the Tiny Things

These feelings also made me appreciate the teeny tiny things about my life that made me feel good, even if it was just for a second. These things could have been:

  • Laughing with my family, like I did with my mom that morning at Costco
  • Feeling the sun on my skin
  • Eating some goddamn gluten-free cinnamon raisin toast with vegan cream cheese
  • Spending time with my best friend, even if she didn’t understand what I going through
  • Having a strawberry kombucha (GT’s what’s up!)
  • Snuggling with my bunnies
  • Having a great cup of tea
  • KINDNESS. This one was huge. I felt so touched anytime someone was kind to me. It could have been the girl at the checkout asking me how I was, or telling me to have a good day. It could have been a stranger smiling at me. It could have been my husband saying “I love you”. It could have been my neighbor calling just to say hi. These tiny things meant so much when I felt so bad.

Perhaps most of all, I appreciated feeling better, even if the steps were tiny. Time passed and while some days were fucking hard, things very slowly got easier. And even if some days I truly didn’t feel ok, that really was ok.

These Are the Things That Helped

So as I said, time went on. I made a list of things that helped me feel less like I wanted to die, which you can read in my empath article. In case you don’t feel like reading that article, these are the seven things that really helped me (although I do go into more detail in that other article about each one).

1. Exercising

2. Meditating

3. Activism

4. Reading Eckhart Tolle

5. Grounding

6. Avoiding Triggers

7. Baths

My husband and I keep this list on our fridge to remind me to do at least a couple of these things daily. It really helps me maintain my mental health and strengthen my resilience, so the next time I do experience a trigger, I can handle it better and get through it easier.

Even though I felt so bad some days, these things did help. For instance, maybe I didn’t feel like exercising on a certain day, but I would read Eckhart Tolle, which was hugely helpful. Or maybe I didn’t feel like meditating, but I would ground, which was easy and made me feel better.

What works for me won’t work for everyone; I just know that these things are helpful for me even if I feel like I want to die.

Where Am I Today?

Today, I do still feel like I want to die on occasion. In the months after my break, my life largely consisted of “not ok” moments with rare moments of happiness. Today, it’s the opposite. I feel a lot better than I felt nearly two years ago, although some days are a struggle, I feel nowhere near as bad I felt back then.

I got married less than a year (about 10 months) after my mental break to my amazing husband. At this time, I was doing much better and knew what I needed to do to feel less depressed.

I’m not saying everything is better. Just that I’m doing better.

So why the heck did I write this article?

I’m tired of not talking about my feelings because of the stigmatism associated with mental health and suicide. Over the last nearly two years since I had my break, literally the only person I have talked to about my feelings has been my husband. And that’s not only doing a disservice to him and to me, but to everyone out there who has felt these same feelings and doesn’t want to be labeled as suicidal or depressed or have people freak out about their feelings.

You may not have seen what I’ve seen or experienced what I’ve experienced. But maybe something happened to you that deeply hurt you and marked your soul and has made you feel like you want to die.

My goal in writing this article isn’t necessarily to offer you hope. Do I think the world is going to get better? Yes, I do. But that’s not the point of this article. I’m here to tell you that your feelings are valid. I’m here to tell you that it’s not wrong or bad to feel like you want to die. I’d even go so far as to say that if someone chooses to kill themselves (as my own grandfather did), then that’s a decision that is theirs and theirs alone. No one else lives your life. No one else feels the things you feel. Only you know if you want to keep going.

I hope you do, only because I’ve done it, and I know that I am better because of this—even though I feel differently about life now and things aren’t all roses—and have something to share with the world. I know you do too. It’s up to you if you want to share it though.

I’ve learned that I can make a difference even if it is small. The thing I witnessed—I work every day to stop it from happening again and that brings meaning, even if it feels small sometimes, to my life. It makes me feel like if I die, I won’t be able to make a difference. But I’m here now and I’m working daily to make the world a better place. I know you can too.

If you want to comment on this article with your feelings, know that you are safe here. Your email address is required to comment, but will never be posted publicly. You are also free to reach out to me at jenn@thegreenwritingdesk.com to share your feelings if you don’t want to post them publicly.

(Also please keep in mind I have 100% control over what comments are publicly posted and I will simply delete anything that I feel is criticism or negativity towards either me or another commenter.)

Thank you for reading and for not judging me, the decisions I’ve made, or how I live my life. No one has lived my life but me, so please don’t comment on what you think is best for me. Thank you.

 

Clothing: Tube top with inner boob tube, hammer time pants, and Love Me 2 Times below knee sari simplicity dress, all from Gaia Conceptions

Glitter: Aurora blend from EcoStardust

Tattoos: Floral arm piece by @tokatattoos and dragon back piece by the amazing @anka.tattoo