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Finding a good herbalist

Much of what's written in this article is entirely suitable for a person to work through themselves but, especially if things are quite bad, or you just know that you need further help, then there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist or truly holistic practitioner to guide you on to a safe and strong treatment program. There's a short write-up to suggest how you might go about finding such a person here

Is it depression, anxiety or both?

There are many cross-overs in the holistic approach to depression and anxiety but there are also some distinct steps for each one that are an essential part of the 'work' and, because a person who is very unwell may often only take one step at a time, it can be important to so start with identifying if it is depression, or anxiety or both.

Only you, or the person who is suffering, can truly know how they feel so, even if a health professional, e.g. a GP, has made a diagnosis of 'depression', keep an open mind and ask yourself, or the person you are caring for, a couple of straight, simple questions.

1) are the primary symptoms, the ones you have the most trouble with on the most days, very bad feelings of anxiety and tension? If the answer to this is yes then I suggest that, even if you might want to come back and read this page later, to shift the focus of your attention towards the article on anxiety here

2) are the primary symptoms, the ones you have the most trouble with on the most days, feelings of sadness, fatigue, inertia or hopelessness? If so, then you are in the right place, read on.

If you cannot pick a side, then the answer will be both and this article as well as the one on anxiety will have much to offer you, but you must choose which steps to begin with.

In any case, by whatever name we give to our suffering, and for whatever reasons we suffer, none of us are alone in it and, by our intrinsic nature to care for each other and by our deep desire to take out what works from what doesn't, there are steps, and things, that we have come to know that can be relied on to help, this is what they are...


Hypericum perforatum (St John's wort)

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Let Nature Help

The first step is to let Nature help. Do not try to do it alone.

Pharmaceutical companies are amongst the richest corporations on Earth, but they got that way by creating dependencies, not cures, and you do not have to believe that synthetic, mind-altering chemicals can do more to help you than the natural drugs that grow in the soil of the earth. Herbs were our first medicines, long ago we learned which ones reliably helped and how best to use them.

For one example, the herb St John's wort, as written up here, has been put head-to-head with the best antidepressant drugs available in over 25 clinical studies and has been consistently shown to work at least as well as the drugs with none of their side-effects or addictive tendencies.

St John's is by no means the only medicine that can help with depression either. There are equally potent herbs such as the great tonic Withania, more about it here, or the gentle but potent Skullcap, more here, that can work just as well in their own ways, helping to nourish, soothe and heal the raggedy edges of a nervous system that has been stretched, far too thin.

I wish this weren't so, but it is an unfortunate fact that the biggest suppliers and marketers of natural medicines are now owned by the pharmacy corporations too, because it is profitable for them. Their marketing is compelling, and the greed behind it is well-hidden, but it means that many of the actual herbal products they produce are woefully poor in quality. They buy the cheapest raw material available and then put the best packaging on it money can buy...

As said at the bottom of this and every article, I can't advise you without seeing you and I can't sell you anything either. As also said at the top, it may be of great benefit for you to find a good herbalist to see you in person as well as make sure you get the best herbs to help. However, I do understand that there will be situations where this is just not possible, so with the disclaimers that

a) we make our own tinctures from organic raw material and that other preparations will have different potencies and therefore best dosage levels and
b) you would need to be aware that no herb is right for everyone and that St Johns, for example, doesn't mix well with some medications, written up in more detail on its page

The following is an example of a herbal formula to help with depression. One of my reasons for including it here is to show that we can safely use very high doses of these herbs because sometimes we need to use such high amounts to be sure of their support. These are not vitamins, only needed in tiny quantities, they are drugs, natural drugs certainly, but their complex chemistry nevertheless still needs to be absorbed at certain levels for them to be sure to be effective. By contrast, commercial preparations in pill form of any of these herbs would give only a small fraction of the strength and dosage recommended here. I am sure you will understand that, in medicine, the right dosage is absolutely crucial to success.

Sample formula

St John's wort 160mls
Skullcap 160mls
Withania root 160mls
Licorice root 60mls

The top end of the dose range for this formula would be 10mls twice a day. We could use half that amount for a smaller or more sensitive person, or if their condition was less severe or much improved after taking the initial maximum dose for a time.
The Licorice root helps to bind the other herbs together and make the medicine much more palatable, Peppermint extract could be used instead if a person had an aversion to the taste of Licorice.

There are many ways that a formula like this could be adapted according to the individual case. People with depression commonly have physical disturbances at the same time, for example, if they had indigestion or some kind of gut discomfort, we could add some Fennel, or Chamomile or Ginger extract into the mixture and slightly reduce the amount of one or more of the other herbs. Or, if they had lost their appetite then as little as 40mls of Gentian root could make a world of difference if taken with the other herbs twice a day. There are many other such options.

Let Nature help and let that help come in a way that you are in no doubt as to it making an impact on how you feel, and quickly too! Herbs like Skullcap will be felt almost immediately in how they calm the agitated mind and give you some space to get your head clearer, Withania is calming too, but it gives strength at the same time, helps a person to get some courage to take the next steps. St John's is just a marvellous remedy, indispensable, a light in a dark place, let it in.


Scutellaria lateriflora (Skullcap)

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Somehow express

There is a great deal of 'inertia' in the state of depression and part of the cure for it depends on moving that stuck state. This is hardest at the beginning, more about that shortly, but once you start expressing, and therefore moving, the stuck thoughts and feelings, the healing process always goes forwards.

This is a very challenging step for most people. Depression creates a deep sense of disconnection with others, those people cannot feel what we are feeling and, unless they are in the same state, it seems that they cannot understand what we feel.

You must express yourself but how, and to who? Talking is dependent on another person and finding the right one can seem like an impassable obstacle. Not many people know how to talk with, or be with, someone who is depressed, even if they make space to listen, they generally try to make things better by giving advice or trying to talk the person out of what they are trying to say...

The person who is depressed can leave the conversation with the sense that their feelings have not been understood, let alone acknowledged. Worst of all they can sense the other person's frustration that they were not able to 'fix' their low mood and so it makes it even harder to open up to them, or anyone else, the next time.

The best person to talk with is someone who cares about you, a friend or family member, but unless they have been through this themselves, then you must be prepared to tell them exactly what you need them to do and then be prepared to be patient with them until they get it, because very few people get this right the first time!

It is not easy to ask for help, but if you are ready to ask, then you need to give the person you are asking a chance to give you the help you need, and for you both to start with the realism that this is a really difficult problem that they cannot be expected to know how to solve.

That they can't solve it will be hard for them too, unless they understand that the help they can give is one that might as well be called just giving you some 'love' rather than fixing you. This 'love' is very practical, it takes the form of practicing understanding and acknowledgement (with strong emphasis on the word 'practicing'). They will need to have more than one or two goes at this to get any good at it, but if they do practice it then they will definitely get better each and every time they do it, and it will help, that much is a guarantee.

Practicing understanding and acknowledgement is where you carefully listen to the person (or carefully look at what they are showing you if they have expressed themselves into written words or art) and then reflect back what it is that you have understood. The reflection is important, it needs to be clean, clear. You need to get your own 'stuff' out of the way, put aside any judgement or condemnation (this is partly why the word 'love' could apply to this process) and simply say what it is you can hear them wanting to express, how they feel is the most important part of this. Our feelings are the things that affect us more than anything, and depression is one of the hardest of all emotions to feel. The listener needs to be open to hearing or seeing and then understanding what the feeling is behind what they are expressing. Then, they simply need to reflect that, this is the essential part of the process called 'acknowledgement'.

For example, 'I can hear how terribly alone you are feeling' or 'I can see how angry you are about this' or 'I can hear how sad and hopeless you are feeling,and I am so sorry about that'.

I suppose that, reading this on a page, wherever you are, it all might sound contrived, out of context. Ok, but try it anyway, or ask someone you know who cares about you enough to try it. All that matters is if it works, and it does work, remarkably quickly and effectively too. You don't have to make long speeches, it isn't about you, the listener, it's actually extremely easy to do if you can just put your ego aside and give a person some love...

Remember, you aren't trying to fix how they feel, this point cannot be over-emphasised, you are simply practicing understanding and acknowledgement. This is powerful medicine, it works, but you have to do it for it to work. If it might help to hear this same message in another form, I've said the same thing in a short poem here

I hope that you already have such a person in your life, or that they are there, and you just have to take the step to reach out to them and tell them what you need. If not, then the second-best option is to find a good therapist who knows how to listen and doesn't need to give you drugs to do their work because they have many times seen that people get well, without drugs, from even the most severe depression when you help them to talk and express what is stuck inside. That it passes, always.

Talking does work, but it is not always possible. Maybe you can't find or afford a good therapist or maybe, at this point in your life, you are truly isolated, physically and/or emotionally, and there really is no-one to talk to, or no-one who is willing to learn how to listen. Or maybe you just aren't a talker, you really can't do it, even with the best listener in the world, so then what?

You still must express what is going on for you right now. Even if it is simply on a page, in words or pictures, even if you have no immediate hope that anyone will ever see it, or understand it if they did, you simply must do this work in some way or form, because everything is better out than in.

People have instinctively understood the need for there to be a means of expressing these feelings for millennia. That it is when things are held in, unacknowledged, unexpressed, that the journey to hell has no return ticket.

Many kinds of music can also help do this work, and you may have found that listening to others who sing or say things that resonate with how you feel has helped you already. That's good, but you must add your voice too, in whatever way you can. Get somewhere private, put on some music and sing or shout your heart out, if that's what it takes. The method is not so important as the process, talking, singing, shouting, writing, drawing, express somehow, as often as you need to... because everything is better out than in...

Have you ever heard the saying 'sometimes you have to get worse before you can get better'. This phrase, or one like it, exists in all cultures and languages because, in true healing, we've all seen that things often do have to temporarily worse before they get better. This can be very hard to deal with unless you understand it and are prepared for it.

Moving the stuck energy of depression opens things up. You need to be prepared for the possibility, when you take these steps, that for a little while, you will feel angrier, or sadder, or more tired and that this can also set up an increased anxiety that what you are doing is making things worse and you need to stop it! Stop taking herbs, stop talking or expressing, just stop.

There is a very good reason that such a large percentage of our population are on drugs for depression and anxiety and that only a tiny percentage of our population will ever want to do the kind of work I am talking about here. Aside from herbs being harder and more expensive to obtain (assuming the drugs are tax-funded) aside from that they don't numb your feelings and stop you having to experience things, now we're saying that the work you have to do alongside taking them will mean you have to feel worse before you get better! Seriously?

Well, yes, though maybe not 'have to' feel worse, might feel worse is more accurate, and it does pass, and you do get a lot of insights along the way about why you are feeling depressed in the first place, and you do go through a healing journey. In fact, depression has been such a common part of the human condition that it might as well be called a universal experience, and many have thought of it as a 'rite of passage 'something that people go through and come out changed; grown, matured, wiser.

The healing journey is the point of going to all this trouble, and why you wouldn't just line up to get pharmaceutical drugs like everyone else. I doubt you would even be on this site, let alone reading this far If you just wanted to buy in to the great lie from the medical system that depression is just a chemical imbalance, something that happened to you, something that you are a victim of because of some bad genes or bad luck and so therefore something that you now need to take chemicals to fix your brain for the rest of your life, just like a diabetic needs insulin is how it is usually compared, and all you need to find the right one to make the pain go away.

The chemical imbalance myth is a compelling story, and one that seems very attractive to believe in when you are sick and suffering. The problem with it is that it's a lie, it's just not true, there's no evidence for it whatsoever and even if a chemistry of depression is eventually found it will only prove that our ever-changing chemistry is part of the greater whole of us and that everything we think and feel has a physical component too You cannot reduce life to matter alone, there is a life-force in it. In this regard, it would be more useful to say that our biography becomes our biology... I do realise that this is a thorny and contentious subject, and that there are a lot of strong voices arguing the opposite viewpoint. Of course, you will have to make up your own mind and, if it will help, there is more to read on this subject here

What I say is that people with depression always have good reasons to feel the way they do, always, but when you don't address those causes, don't express them and don't address them, then you may be able to mute your suffering, to make it more bearable, to keep working and paying your taxes, but you don't heal.

The reason many people temporarily get worse when they start expressing their feelings is because it gives them validity. It completely contradicts the idea that you are a victim of a chemical imbalance and says, 'this is my story, this is why I feel the way I do'.

It's powerful stuff, and you do have to be careful with its power. When you recognise the cause of something it doesn't remove it, it just brings it into the open. The 'work' continues as you get out of the inertia of depression and do things to address its causes.

Sigmund Freud, the father of Psychiatry, was right at least some of the time when he said that 'depression is anger turned inwards' so, for example, it is entirely possible that you will become more angry in this process and you must be very careful how you channel that anger, it is the great 'fire' of transformation, and you must take care not to harm yourself or the ones who love you with it.

Another example is deep fatigue and exhaustion, which are often states that have far more to do with our emotional being than people realise and are also experiences that can temporarily increase when we accept and acknowledge their right to exist, in other words we open up to them.

Sadness, grief, loneliness, loss... these are just words, they are not the thing itself, but the feeling that is behind those words, if that feeling is there, if it exists, then there will be good reasons for it, always. Expressing this, allowing it to be what it is, hopefully with the help of another person who can simply understand and acknowledge the reality of it, or by yourself for yourself if you must, will bring the feelings out in into the open, where they will be more obvious, more 'felt' at least for a while, and then things move. The great state of inertia, of 'depression' begins to shift.

It does always shift, this does always work, as hard as it can be to get started. I hope I have been able to convey something about the 'why' you need to somehow express, and also why it might make things feel more raw, more vivid, more painful at least at first.

So, I say it always works, but does it, really? Are you supposed to just take my word for this? You cannot see me, I've said I can't treat you unless I can see you in person. If you look around my site, you can surely tell I'm not trying to take advantage of you in some way (well I hope you can because I can't see how!), but why should you trust me that any of this will actually help?

If this is your question, and it is certainly a fair and good question to ask, then all I can say is simply 'yes' and I suppose at least I will know that I'm not lying to you! At the time of writing this edit (2018) I am in my 30th year of practice, I've had time to learn a few things, including what works and doesn't work for depression, surely one of the hardest, toughest of all conditions to have, and to treat.

A further question to will it work, perhaps an even more important question, but one that you may not think to ask, because it might only naturally come later, is 'now what?'

It is so important to take this initial step of expressing in order to recognise, acknowledge and accept the existence of the suffering and the good reasons for it that this process can feel like an end in itself, but it's not, it's just the first steps. Once you have done that, now that things may or may not have initially felt more intense but have now improved, what next? Is that the end of it, no more depression?

I wish it were so simple, but then again what kind of journey would it be if it was all over after the first few steps! The reality is that we go on feeling for every single second of our lives, and we will have to deal with many difficult feelings over those long hours and days ahead. Must it be so hard that we fight against every feeling we don't like, or try to chase them away with drugs or other escapes?

What follows the 'now what? question is a deep subject in itself. I have done the best I can to speak to it as clearly as possible in a section in this site called emotional healing. There is a lot of writing there, but hopefully it goes some way further into answering how this process works, why understanding and acknowledging things helps, why depression itself may be a necessary part of our human journey, a kind of 'dark friend' that shows us the way to love...

This section is found in the chapter on constitutional medicine don't worry if you haven't 'worked out' which constitution you are before delving into it, it will hardly matter but, when ready, go further here

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Get your heart beating

Moving your thoughts and feelings by talking about them or expressing them in some way is essential, and so is moving your body. Numerous clinical studies have proven beyond any doubt that exercise is exceptionally beneficial for all kinds of depression - why is this so?

It is because our feelings are not stuck in our heads nearly as much as we may perceive them to be. Rather, in a true sense, our feelings are in our bodies, which can be likened to our subconscious mind.

The dark feelings of depression are noticed and reflected on in the brain but if you spend time delving into how you actually feel underneath those thoughts you will find that there are always hollow, heavy, dark and unpleasant feelings that are centred in the body, especially in the heart and the belly.

These feelings are far more troubling to our inner peace than the thoughts that reflect them but for the most part we are not nearly as aware of them as we are the thoughts that they produce.

Movement, both through talking or expression, and through moving your body, helps to release those stuck feelings.

In terms of 'how much exercise does it take?' what can be said for sure is that you need to feel the effort of it. Your heart rate needs to go up, at least to the point that you have to breathe harder.

There is an assumption that people who are depressed will not be able to find the motivation to exercise and will reject it as 'too hard'. This has not been the experience of researchers in this field, nor the experience of me or my colleagues in real life at all.

So long as someone knows that it will genuinely help them to get better then they certainly will do it. The difficulty of getting started and the temporary discomfort of a heart-rate lifting exercise is nothing compared to the tortures of depression. You can trust this will help, you just have to do it.

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Get some rest

If you are depressed then you will be exhausted, and if you are exhausted then you need to rest, but there is an entire world of difference between stressed inactivity and peaceful relaxation. The problem is, of course, in the mind, in negative spirals of thought that are utterly energy-draining.

You must take a break from your own mind to get the rest you need but how? How do you stop the tyranny of thought when it so repeatedly insists on being centre-stage?

Movies and technology can be great for this too, but one of the best of all ways to get out of your own head-space is with a good novel or some absorbing non-fiction. A good book is a 'medicine for the mind' and has been seen to be of tremendous help to a great many people's mental health, especially if it involves you reading or listening to a story. Stories have been told by every culture throughout all of human history. They remedy our being caught in taking our own lives too seriously. Whilst they entertain and absorb us, they bring peace and healing to the fractured mind.

There are other activities that can absorb attention too, you just have to do whatever you know is enough to occupy your mind enough to not get caught in the whirlpools of thought. There will always be something, it might be right in front of you right now! The hardest step is just turning your attention away from the magnetic force of that black hole within and to make a start at looking at, or doing something, that's got nothing to do with it.

Many times, after working with someone in bad depression, they have said that the number one thing that helped them, that they remembered above anything else, was the clear and certain message that 'this will pass'. It seems unbelievable to the mind when it has become trapped in despair, but it can be trusted because it's true; this will pass.

Having closely worked with many hundreds of people who have been suffering badly from depression, it is truly understood how whole life-affecting and truly serious this problem can be. Clearly, the worst part of it, by far, is the feeling of despair that comes when the person comes to believe they will never feel better again...

The belief that things will never get better is a desperately bad place to get to however, each and every time someone gets the right support from Nature and does the 'work', as described above, they always get better...

Given how serious a condition depression can be, you must know that this statement is not made lightly. but look around this website, there is nothing for sale here, it is said because it is true and the reason to say it is to give some hope, so that you will not despair to take these simple steps. Be of strong heart, take them, and be well!


Withania somnifera (Ashwaganda)

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Constitutional Health Note:

Lastly you might want to learn about your constitution to help better understand how depression may have become an issue in your health as well as more about what kinds of foods, herbs, exercise etc. may best help you.

Constitutional health is an old and fascinating way of understanding our differences and there is a brief introduction to this subject here and a more detailed section on working out which constitution you are here

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!

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© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd