Forget the herb; this is serious


ANYONE LOOKING for a quick fix to major depression will be disappointed in the latest study results for the herb St. John's wort, published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study found that St. John's wort had no more success in relieving depression than a placebo.

To someone who has suffered from depression for decades as I have, the study results are no surprise. While scientists, psychiatrists and many depression sufferers are bent on finding the switch that will turn off those melancholy moods, they are missing the point. Depression will never lend itself to the quick fix. It is a complex condition whose roots often take years to grow. For that reason, depression takes time to heal.

While there are a score of healthy, natural depression relievers -- everything from brisk walks, yoga, meditation, hot baths and even shopping -- depression can only be healed by getting to its roots.

What bothers me about the fixation on the quick fix is that it diverts our attention from what has proven to work. Studies have shown that psychotherapy with a devoted, caring therapist heals depression.

People who rely solely on antidepressants are far more likely to relapse into depression once the medication is discontinued than people who go to therapy and stay in it for a while.

I am one of many people I know for whom psychotherapy definitely worked. Nearly 10 years ago when I sunk into a deep depression from my usual low-level funk, a friend suggested that I try short-term therapy.

Almost from the first session, my therapist, Barbara, helped me feel better. Therapy wasn't an instant cure -- I spent many more years in therapy -- but the sessions lifted my spirts and helped me change the self-defeating behaviors that were keeping me depressed. And that gave me hope.

I knew I would get better because, week after week, I did. In my years of healing, I learned a great deal about depression, its causes and how to heal it. I learned that healing long-term and serious depression takes a long-term and serious approach. I also learned that depression is a physical, emotional and spiritual condition, and to heal it, you must tend to each of those areas within yourself.

Finally, I learned that if you truly dedicate yourself to healing, you can transform your life. Rather than a curse, depression can, in fact, be a gift. Something as multifaceted, interesting and complex as depression probably never will be turned off by a miracle pill or herb. But for someone like me, who has benefited from depression's teachings, that is not such a bad thing.

Patty Somlo has recently completed a book, "Living With Depression: An Intimate Look Into One Woman's Retreat to Heal." She lives in Portland, Ore.

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