Turn to your four-legged friend to beat de­pres­sion

Western Morning News (Saturday) - - Letters -

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

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