Well Being: Exercise and Nutrition A Key To Treating Depression, Yes Black Women Get Depressed


  • Emotional and clinical depression are often confused; clinical depression is a chemical imbalance typically treated with medication
  • Research has shown that exercise plays a key role in treating depression because it releases “feel good” chemicals and can be calming
  • Nutrition can also help restore the balance of chemicals in the body by shifting to a diet based on high-nutrition foods
  • Black women are less likely to seek the help of a mental health professional because of the perceived stigma even though they suffer from depression in high numbers 

Clinical depression is a growing mental and physical health issue in this country. At the risk of sounding like Tom Cruise for a second, I don’t believe it’s as big an issue as the drug prescription rate. First I believe there is a lack of understanding between emotionally depressed and clinically depressed that is getting us into a lot of trouble in America. The highest prescribed drugs in this country are anti-depressants, the next is pain killers. In 2008 one in ten Americans over age 12 are take antidepressants according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Black people are three times less likely to take medication for depression. This is a result of physicians who aren’t really taking the time to understand if their patient is clinically depressed and from patients who are self-diagnosing themselves. Very few of these individuals taking one or more antidepressants have seen a mental health professional. Any practicing physician can write a prescription. Second the rush to the pharmacy to cure what ails us may in fact be killing us, slowly. What about nutrition and exercise?

There is a condition called depression. I think it’s a rather unfortunate title because it is often confused with being emotionally depressed. If someone loses a loved one they are going to be sad, angry and a whole host of other emotions. This is emotional depression. Something that in time will pass, hopefully. A chemical imbalance in the brain or hormones is clinical depression. This typically has nothing to do with external events. Someone with clinical depression may react the same way to winning the lottery as losing a pet. However, an external event causing emotional depression can trigger clinical depression. I think physicians should have come up a different name, but who am I? Clinical and emotional depression are typically treated with pharmaceutical drugs such as Prozac, among others. These often come with side effects such as decreased sex drive, lack of appetite, loss of interest, etc. For some, it may be no better than the disease. And in the case of emotional depression, it doesn’t require medication maybe just positive human connection and help through a difficult time.

Given the constant stimulation from electronic devices, stress, sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, lack of exercise and exposure to toxins it is no wonder clinical depression is running rampant in our society. When my house flooded and I was laid off from work a year to the day I was in very low spirits. Everyone and their dog suggested antidepressants. I was sad. It’s to be expected. I think people were so uncomfortable with my emotions that they wanted to drug me so they felt better. Doctors (general practitioners and mental health) are starting to look at alternative treatments to clinical depression besides a pill. Our bodies are getting out of whack for all sorts of reasons and maybe a pill isn’t the way to fix it. Some people are genetically predisposed to mental health issues, but what if you develop it later in life due to a shift in the chemical balance in your body. The key may be bringing the shift back under control.

Exercise releases “feel good” chemicals such as endorphins, it also reduces the body’s immune response. When the immune system gets thrown off so many things can go wrong. It also increases body temperature which might have a calming effect on the body. Energy loss is a major component of clinical depression. It may seem counterintuitive but regular exercise gradually raises your energy level. The exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous, walking or gardening for 30-40 minutes a day has been shown to have a positive effect. The good news is exercise can help with both clinical and emotional depression, it may even prevent it from occurring in the first place.

Let’s look at how nutrition plays a role. Obesity can be driven by depression because people often self medicate with food. Sugar is addictive and also releases the “feel good” chemicals the same way drugs and exercise do. The problem is it adds on the pounds and when sugar gets low the body craves more. Depression and obesity become a vicious cycle. The other aspect of this is the quality of the foods we put in our body. We already know obesogens (chemicals in our environment that confuse our hormone system) may be making us fat. There are obesogens in the foods we eat, even fruits and vegetables in the form of pesticides and herbicides. These throw hormones out of whack and hormones control just about everything in our bodies. A diet high in bad fat can cloud our judgement and thinking ability. It also creates a malaise or tired feeling that can be confused with depression. Your body simply doesn’t have the quality foods it needs to keep moving. Focusing on foods high in protein, good fat and with high nutritional content helps keep the body functioning well.

If you do suffer from clinical depression seek out the council of a mental health professional that believes in a balanced approach of exercise, nutrition and antidepressants. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Even though Black people are less likely to take antidepressants they are also least likely to seek help at all. It’s still very taboo in the Black community to see a mental health care provider, instead we go to church. If you don’t know where to turn there are resources available, all of which are private, such as California’s Black Women Health Project. If it’s a matter of finances seek out professionals that use a sliding scale based on your income. Check to see if the provider accepts your health insurance and most health care flexible spend accounts that you get through your employer can be used for mental health visits.





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