“I Just Can’t Stop The Negative Thinking”

Most people who come to me with issues around food and weight have self-esteem and self-image issues.  Many have been diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety disorders, some have even been labelled “Bipolar”.  Oftentimes it turns out that they are not, in fact, clinically depressed, nor do they have generalized anxiety disorder, neither are they bipolar.  I say this not because I have any medical training (I don’t), rather because I’ve watched time-and-time again as the supposed “cure” for these ailments is prescribed and taken, only to see no effective change in the person’s state of mind.  I’m simply using my powers of deduction here: if the treatment makes no difference, then the original diagnosis was at least incomplete, if not incorrect.

So, do I know something the doctors don’t?  Maybe, maybe not.  If I do, it’s only because I was one of those once diagnosed with multiple disorders, medicated for it, and found no lasting relief from any of the prescriptions I took.  As a matter of fact I have struggled mightily with depression in my life, and have been highly medicated for it in the past.  I have also been diagnosed as being bipolar, and have been medicated for that too.  None of these medications made a single bit of difference in how I felt.  Ever.  At all.  I need to say here that today I have been off of these medications for several years, and rarely suffer from anything more than mild mood swings any more.

Am I against medications for depression, anxiety or bipolarity?  Not at all.  Not if the person truly has these conditions.  What I am wary of are doctors who want to medicate people without trying to determine whether or not their issue is truly clinical, or perhaps situational.

Take the case of an alcoholic or drug addict who comes to a doctor and says they’re depressed.  The doctor has 2 courses s/he can follow here.  The first course is to ask enough questions to determine whether or not something in the person’s life is causing – or at least significantly aggravating – their presenting symptoms.  If they answer is yes, perhaps psychotherapy, group therapy, or even a good 12-step program might be in order.  Oftentimes these sorts of things alleviate the symptoms entirely, without medication.

Alternately, they can just write a prescription without asking the questions, and risk not addressing the underlying issue (in the case of this example, untreated alcoholism).  Dr. David Burns (I alluded to his workbook “10 Days to Self Esteem” last week) has done research showing that CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is at least as effective at treating depression and anxiety as is medication.  In fact, there is evidence to suggest that it may even work better.

If you believe that negative thoughts and feelings are the result of your depression and/or anxiety, then you’re much more likely to believe that medication will solve your problem.  If you are truly clinically depressed, medication actually may be the way to go.  But if your negative thoughts and feelings are creating your depression and/or anxiety, then a different treatment protocol may be required entirely.  Medication won’t work here, because your problem is your thinking, not depression or anxiety.  CBT works on the principle that if I can change my thoughts, I can change how I feel.  That means that if I can somehow change my negative thinking, then I’ll be able to eradicate or minimize the depression and/or anxiety that results.  It often works where medication doesn’t.  If I’m not clinically depressed, then my medication won’t treat my depression, and I will continue to think negatively.  CBT might just help here: as a matter of fact, Burns says it helps in over 70% of the people who use it!

Please, if you’re on medication for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or anything else, DO NOT go off of it without working with your doctor.  I AM NOT A DOCTOR, and am not passing an opinion on whether or not you should be on medication.  Some people should be on meds who aren’t, and some people shouldn’t be on them who are, that’s all I’m saying, and I can’t say whether or not you fit in to either one of these categories.  What I can suggest is that, if you’ve been suffering from depression and/or anxiety and it isn’t going away regardless of the treatments you’ve tried, try CBT and see if it can help you out.

Next week I’ll delve deeper in to how CBT works.  In the meantime, I invite you to order the book “10 Days to Self Esteem” by David Burns, and start reading.  You’ve got nothing to lose except maybe your negative thinking!  Again, PLEASE DO NOT CHANGE A MEDICATION PROTOCOL YOU ARE CURRENTLY ON WITHOUT SPEAKING WITH YOUR DOCTOR FIRST.  I am not giving medical advice here, only sharing some anecdotal remarks on my personal experience with my own past issues around depression and anxiety, as well as my experience with others who’ve had similar problems.