Is there something I can buy over-the-counter for depression? It’s getting pretty bad and I’m desperate for help. I’m 53, had a hysterectomy about 5 years ago and was on hormones, but am not taking any now. Could this be my problem? I need help soon.
I am glad you have recognized that you have symptoms of severe depression and that you are ready to seek treatment. Too often, the signs and symptoms of depression are overlooked. You have some mild “risk factors” for a major depressive episode, including the fact that you are menopausal and were previously on hormone replacement therapy.
I do believe there are many things a woman can do on her own to combat depression and anxiety. These include:
- Getting excellent nutrition. You should get an adequate intake of calcium, magnesium, B vitamins, folate and omega-3 essential fatty acids, as well as enough protein. Good nutrition means eating high-quality, “natural” (unprocessed) foods in at least three to six meals spread out through the day.
- If necessary, addressing issues of substance use (including nicotine addiction) or other medical issues.
- Doing some form of physical activity every day, preferably outdoors whenever possible, such as (walking, gardening, bicycling or dancing).
- Maintaining a regular sleep-wake cycle.
- Reducing the sense of over-responsibility that is so common in women, not feeling like you have to take care of every single need in your husband, children, relatives, neighbors, community, and so on. In other words, learning to say “no” in a firm and non-guilty manner so that you can protect your own well-being and energy reserves.
- Setting aside some time every day for your own pleasure and creativity (music, reading, sewing, painting — anything that gives you personal joy).
- Maintaining your connection to your religious, spiritual, or devotional side.
- Cultivating the relationships in your life that are nurturing and fulfilling, and, where you can, talking freely about anything and everything that concerns you.
All of these activities are part of maintaining physical and mental health, and can help prevent anxious and depressive feelings. They do not cost anything, they do not require the involvement of a professional (unless you have active medical problems), and they can be started immediately. I always recommend these approaches as part of the “basic package” for treating depression.
However, when someone has entered a full-blown major depressive episode, as perhaps you have, there are fundamental and serious changes in brain biochemistry, and it is unlikely that lifestyle changes alone will reverse severe mood symptoms (though they will definitely help). For such a person, medication treatment is generally necessary, sometimes in conjunction with a course of talking therapy. You will need to consult a mental health professional — preferably a psychiatrist, or a psychologist who specializes in depression and menopause and who works with a psychiatrist. This is in order to have the seriousness of your depression evaluated, to consider the role of hormone replacement therapy in your moods, and to consider a trial of antidepressants.
Yes, there are over-the-counter compounds available that we are felt to be helpful in the treatment of mild depression, mainly St. John’s wort and SAM-e. However, it appears that they are not useful in depressive episodes that are severe, that are related to hormone changes, or that have lasted a long time. They also carry some slight medical risks. For this reason, and given the seriousness of the symptoms you describe, I do not recommend that you try to treat yourself with these compounds on your own.