Turn to your four-legged friend to beat depression
OK – your starter for ten. What do a limpet and a dog have in common? Well, quite a lot as it turns out. And the answer is depression.
For limpets, a vital part of the ocean’s food chain, are dying off in their millions – as a result of depression – or to be more exact – the depression of the human race. They’re struggling to cling onto rocks. Why?
Because the rise of prescribed antidepressants has doubled in the last ten years and as a result, sea creatures are bathing in a soup of drugs.
According to research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, 10% of the population now take antidepressants regularly. Once a middle-aged female disorder, now the average onset of depression is much earlier and doctors are seeing people as young as 14.
As a result of antidepressants entering the environment through sewers, laboratory studies are reporting changes in the environment “such as how some creatures reproduce, grow, the rate at which it matures, metabolism, immunity, feeding habits, the way it moves, its colour and its behaviour” says Professor Alex Ford, of Portsmouth University’s Institute of Marine Biology.
“The antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications are found everywhere, in sewage, surface water, ground water, drinking water, soil and accumulating in wildlife tissues. The potential ability to disrupt the normal biological systems of aquatic organisms is extensive.”
Worryingly, wildlife are bathed in drugs for their entire lifecycle. Prawns are being eaten more readily by predators because waste drugs make them swim towards the light. Creatures ability to reproduce are being affected.
“The constant low-level discharge of pharmaceuticals in the environment, not necessarily high concentrations, have persistence in ecosystems and highly active biological functions,” said Professor Ford in a linked editorial.
“They are very potent, very persistent and they are able to significantly affect nontarget organisms. Most modern sewage plants are unable to adequately extract traces from the water and stop the chemicals entering the environment.”
So what’s to do? Researchers suggest that the increase in antidepressant use is partly due to the difficulty in securing psychological counselling in the UK. They also tell people to return unwanted drugs to pharmacies and a new study is demanding an overhaul of the UK’s waste water systems to bring chemical levels to within legal levels.
So where does man’s best friend come in to all this? Renowned psychologist Martin Seligman has spent his life trying to help people getting over depression and is acclaimed as “the father of positive psychology”. He reckons we have the wrong approach to depression.
That we treat it as an illness when often it isn’t. Clearly bipolar depression needs medication, but Martin is convinced that cognitive behavioural therapy is a better option for many and allows you to be an active participant in your own therapy. But better still, turn to your four-legged friend.
For one of Martin’s simplest tips for improving mood is to get a dog: “There’s very good evidence that dogs improve your mental health and they are incredibly loving and loyal partners.”
Of course, a dog has many plus sides, like exercise, responsibility and being the object of affection.
“The main problem with antidepressants,” says Martin, “is that they don’t encourage people to change their thinking or behaviour, and as depression typically recurs every three years, people treated with antidepressants end up back at square one.
“There are plenty of things you can choose to do that increase your happiness in a lasting way. You can choose the way you think and what you focus on – depression doesn’t just fall on you like a brick wall.”
Martin knows – in his latest book The Hope Circuit he reveals his own struggles with depression and how he deals with it. He talks of how his own dog, Lily, has helped him. If owning a dog is out of the question, consider becoming a dog walker for a dog’s home. Maybe there’s a working family near you who would love to have Fido farmed out to a loving home during the day. Or offer to walk a friend’s dog or look after it when they’re away. Or get a cat.
I’ve not come across research on the efficacy of cats on depression, but I cannot believe that the warm contact of a moggy purring on your lap doesn’t have some mood lifting effect.
Dump your unwanted drugs on your pharmacist, spend less time on your screens (and your children too) and question your doctors if they want to prescribe mood-lifting drugs. Next time you walk on the beach, know you have done your bit to let a little limpet cling to his rocky home.
If owning a dog is out of the question, consider becoming a dog walker for a dog’s home. Maybe there’s a working family near you who would love to have Fido farmed out to a loving home during the day