June 7, 2010
Roughly 5 percent to 10 percent of the general population becomes depressed, but up to 60 percent of people with HIV experience depression, according to the New Mexico AIDS Education and Training Center at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center.
"Depression is a major phenomenon that accompanies HIV," says Roni DeLuz, N.D., Ph.D., a naturopathic physician in Vineyard Haven, Mass. Many of the people with HIV or AIDS whom Dr. DeLuz regularly treats feel guilty about having contracted HIV in the first place; others are fearful about an uncertain future.
But depression, which is characterized by such symptoms as lengthy periods of sadness, anxiety and feelings of hopelessness, can be treated. And for those who aren't interested in adding a mood stabilizer to the list of medications they're already taking, there are alternative holistic solutions -- ranging from diet to exercise to hypnosis -- that can alleviate the mental anguish.
Alternative medical treatments are nothing new in the African American community. "The first African Americans who arrived as slaves brought their own health-care practices, and those traditions got passed on from generation to generation," says Eric J. Bailey, author of African American Alternative Medicine: Using Alternative Medicine to Prevent and Control Chronic Diseases. More than 70 percent of African Americans have tried complementary and alternative medicine, according to (PDF) the National Institutes of Health. Here are some suggestions for managing the pain of depression in ways that treat the mind, body and spirit:
Eat well and exercise: The more green vegetables you consume, the better. "When you get high concentrations of greens in your body, you have elevated the concentration of oxygen in your blood," says Dr. DeLuz. That, in turn, elevates your mood. Avoid white flour, white sugar and white rice because they cause blood sugar to increase rapidly and then drop just as fast. That drop in blood sugar will deflate your mood, "creating further problems for someone who's already depressed," says Andrea D. Sullivan, N.D., a naturopathic and homeopathic physician based in Washington, D.C. Dehydration can also spur depression, so drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol. Exercise is just as important as diet because it also increases oxygen levels in the blood. Not only that, "but it makes the body feel better and look better, and these are things that battle depression," Dr. Sullivan says.
Add amino acids and enzymes to your diet: Amino acids are sources of protein that also improve the mood. "If you just get a really good protein powder with all of the amino acids, that will help," says Dr. DeLuz. Enzymes are another source of protein, and they help the body absorb nutrients faster. "When you have an immune system problem, your body may not be digesting the nutrients, so those extra nutrients that are in your body create depression," Dr. DeLuz says. "Once we get some enzymes, the body responds better to stress."
Find a homeopathic practitioner: Homeopathy is a medical system in which diluted substances of plants, minerals and animals are used to stimulate a person's natural healing abilities. Depression, like every other illness, is an imbalance of energy, Dr. Sullivan says. A homeopathic practitioner can work with a depressed person to redirect that energy.
Consider hypnosis: "The mind creates reality," says Raymond Carnegie, Ph.D., a Hyattsville, Md.-based psychologist who uses hypnotherapy as one of his tools to help patients deal with depression. When a person goes into an altered state of consciousness, which is what hypnosis creates, he or she can focus more clearly on the causes of the depression and come up with a healthier way to perceive the situation. Often, hypnosis can help you accept a tough reality, Dr. Carnegie says. "Once you've accepted it, the depression often goes away."
Relax with Reiki: Originating in Japan, Reiki is a stress-reduction system that promotes healing. During a Reiki session, the practitioner will transmit energy from his or her hands to the receiver, based on the notion that an unseen energy or life force flows through all people. The energy transmitted by the Reiki practitioner activates the receiver's own self-healing energy, which can then combat the depression. Not only does Reiki promote relaxation, which can help relieve anxiety, but "Reiki gives the body a jump start," says Kim Christopher, a Reiki practitioner based in Laurel, Maryland. "The body needs energy to get into a place of healing itself."
Maintain a spiritual focus: Whatever higher power you believe in, continue to engage in the practices of that faith and exercise your spiritual body along with your physical one, Dr. Sullivan says. "Whether it's through meditation, church, reading or praying at home, it's important to be in touch with that energy and know that everything happens for the highest good even when we don't like it. There's another plan that affects all of us."
Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist who writes about health, wealth and personal growth.