America’s Top Ten Killers. #10 – Depression and Suicide

According to the Mental Health Institute of America, Depression and suicide are the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. Each year, 44,000 individuals die prematurely due to the mental illness, resulting in a “successful” suicide 1 out of every 25 attempts. These high numbers can be attributed to the estimated 16.2 millions adults in America that have had at least one major depressive episode in their lifetimes, which unfortunately is a rising statistic. This number is up to over 6% of all American citizens from the previously reported 4% in 2014. 

As these numbers continue to rise, so do the number of patients prescribed psychoactive medications that often times, lead to discomfort and other negative side effects in patients. Currently, 16.2 million American adults suffer from depression, our nations leading cause of suicide which comes in several forms. Most cases are classified as major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder and bipolar disorder, but it is also important to note that upwards of 15% of woman develop major postpartum depression after childbirth. Most alarming however is the recent rise in Americans and the number of antidepressant medications currently being taken on a regular basis The CDC and NCHS releaed a recent study detailing the current state of America’s mental health and reported that nearly 11% of our country’s current population take some form of antidepressant medication. This number has been steadily climbing since 1994 and as big pharmacy corporations continue to grow, this statistic seems to be climbing with it. 

However, while suffering from a mental health problem is becoming a commonality in our culture there is still ways to combat the problem with a more holistic and natural approach. A recent study titled “Understanding Nutrition, Depression and Mental Illness” conducted by T.S Sathyanarayana Rao and his team from Indian J Psychiatry took a closer look at the relationship between the food we use to fuel our bodies and our minds what he found may shock you. Rao and his team determined that depressed individuals consistently make poor food choices, which directly contribute to their mental illness. “These choices directly relate to lower levels of serotonin which lead to an overall insensitivity to future consequences, triggering risky, impulsive and aggressive behaviors which can culminate in suicide and inwardly directed impulsive aggression.” The researchers determined that the consumption of omega – 3 fatty acids, along with B vitamins and minerals paired with amino acids can act as mood enhancers. Carbohydrates and proteins have also been linked to higher moods and diets lacking them often result in more depressed individuals with lower serotonin levels. More specifically, foods that are lower on the glycemic index including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains provide our brains with longer lasting positive impacts on brain chemistry, opposed to their counterparts such as sweets and sugars that provide temporary relief. This spike in positive brain chemistry and serotonin levels linked to unhealthy foods, often times results in a spiraling effect, leading to more and more poor diet choices to help combat the mental crash one feels after the sudden spike. This cycle can form similar patterns to those that are addicted to a variety of other substances other than food and cause many similar behaviors as other addictions. 

Dr. Michael Craig Miller of Harvard Health has also found a direct link to depression and obesity, which is a direct consequence of the behaviors we have previously discussed. Dr. Miller and his team found that decreased serotonin levels and obesity have a direct connection and as a result, work together in a self destructing cycle. “Obesity affects the parts of the brain that regulate your mood. When you’re depressed, low energy and motivation can translate into less activity and exercise. The result may be weight gain” Says Dr. Miller. “If both problems have a hold on you, it can be hard to break their grip.” Excess weight has adverse effects on the health of your heart, knees and hips and Dr. Miller states that “For some people exercise works as well as antidepressants” which means that even if an individual in not overweight but still feeling the mental holds of depression, exercise can be a safe, healthy and chemical free alternative to combat any mental health problems and their leading causes.