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~~ Introduction ~~
I did a little research on the web in preparation for writing this review and my findings are a little alarming.
Mental health problems are identified as one of the top three causes of sickness absence. Some recent research shows that in any one year 25% of us are affected by mental health problems and nearly all of us experience mental health problems at some point in our lives.
Of people who actually see a professional about their difficulties, about 80% suffer depression, anxiety and other stress-related problems.
Over five million people each year in the UK consult their doctor's about such problems and estimates from the 2003/4 survey of Self-reported Work-related Illness indicate that self-reported work-related stress, depression or anxiety account for an estimated 12.8 million reported lost working days per year in Britain.
The 2003/4 survey also suggested that over half a million individuals in Britain believed that they were experiencing work-related stress at a level that was making them ill.
Occupation and industry groups containing teachers and nurses, along with professional and managerial groups particularly those in the public sector have high prevalence rates of work-related stress in the SWI and SHAW surveys. The THOR datasets SOSMI and OPRA also report high incident rates of work-related mental illness for these occupational groups, along with medical practitioners and those in public sector security based occupations such as police officers, prison officers, and UK armed forces personnel. (The Health and Safety Executive, http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress.htm.)
~~ So what? ~~
Some of you may be wondering what the significance of me providing this information is in a review about a book. The thing is, with mental health problems being so prevalent in our lives, communities and work force today, we need to find ways of combating it. Furthermore, not everyone wants to be prescribed SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as Prozac to help them get through it. Prozac and other drugs prescribed for such mental illnesses dont cure the person; they merely treat the symptoms. The causes of the illness will still be there when the person stops taking the drug, unless they do something about it.
Finally, as a member of an at risk profession (I work in the public sector and my working arrangements are particularly stressful) and having suffered from depression for as long as I can remember, I am a member of the target audience for this book. (Although, had I not been taking Prozac myself, I would not have regained my desire to get better rather than plotting my demise.)
~~ Get on with the review of the book ~~
The author, Dr David Servan-Schreiber, claims that 50-75% of all visits to the doctor are stress related and thus recognised the need to find better ways of curing people suffering from mental illness. He recognised that not everyone wants to take drugs or engage in talking therapies and that also the drugs dont cure the illness. He set out to find a more acceptable way of treating patients that had more chance of curing them than existing methods.
The first few chapters give you details about some of his experiences, his background and the impetus for writing this book. Its a very difficult book to summarise because there is so much information of great value. Although the concepts that are related to the reader are not difficult to understand, its hard to explain them convincingly whilst remaining succinct.
What Dr Servan-Schreiber came up with was 7 alternative methods for dealing with depression and other stress related illnesses, together with scientific evidence, which serves to back up their effectiveness. Essentially, these methods are targeting the emotional brain (the limbic area of the brain) directly in order to promote its healing. The emotional brain does not respond so well to cognitive and linguistic therapeutic regimes so the methods identified attempt to heal the emotional brain via the body.
Each chapter combines clinical evidence, physiological information, case stories, personal insights, suggestions and descriptions of the methods. It helps if you know a little about physiology, but it is by no means a prerequisite. Every chapter in this book is written exceptionally well and provides the reader with enough information to explain the methods without overwhelming them. Although the book is medically biased, it can leave the layman reader, such as myself, feeling incredibly motivated and uplifted. At times it is really touching, something that adds to its overall appeal.
The 7 methods of healing are:
1) Heart Coherence
The heart and the brain are closely linked. Normally your cardiac rhythm is irregular or chaotic and the aim of this method is to train it to become more regular and enter a state of 'coherence'. Chaotic rhythms are associated with stress, anxiety and depressive states and are a leading predictor of high blood pressure, heart disease, and even mortality. The theory is, if we can become more coherent, we can become happier and healthier.
2) EMDR : Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
This is a really interesting method and theory. The suggestion is, when we experience a traumatic event, it leaves a wound in our emotional brain. Sometimes we cant heal these wounds effectively or quickly enough and EMDR appears to enhance the brains ability to deal with past traumatic events.
This may be through eye-movements resembling those that take place spontaneously during dreaming, or by purposely eliciting the movements. It sounds far fetched, but the information presented about it is fascinating.
3) The Energy of Light
The emotional brain is very sensitive to different biological rhythms including that of light. Most of you have probably heard of SAD (seasonal affective disorder), which affects people in the winter months (October to March in the Northern Hemisphere). The theory is, we can use light to lift our spirits. Not only this, but using a dawn simulator we can wake up gradually to a simulated dawn, rather than wake up with a start to the sound of our alarm (or the local radio station). (Personally I dont think this is of much use to me. I havent heard the sound of my alarm for months because normally I am up and out of the door before it even goes off. I think its set for about 8am and I wake up between 5 and 6!)
This gradual waking enable us to start the day in a more positive and relaxed manner and our bodies have a chance to move from the sleeping state to a state of waking. Dreams can wrap up and we can wake up feeling refreshed and relaxed (that sounds really good!).
4) The Control of Qi ("Chi")
This method utilises acupuncture to promote the flow of energy through the body and stimulate the brain. For over 2,500 years, traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine has relieved stress, anxiety and depression with acupuncture. Research using cranial imaging has shown that stimulation with fine acupuncture needles directly controls key areas of the emotional brain.
5) Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Did you know that 20% of the brain is made of essential fatty acids that cannot be manufactured by the body? For the emotional brain to work optimally, it needs a supply of the omega-3 essential fatty acids, which need to be drawn entirely from what we eat. These fatty acids are found in fish (more so in the oily fish varieties such as mackerel), seaweeds and some green vegetables.
Recent studies have suggested that omega-3 fatty acids are powerful antidepressants in addition to their well-established benefits on cardiovascular function.
Included in this chapter is a very useful table containing the best sources of naturally occurring omega-3.
6) Prozac or Puma?
Physical exercise (twenty to thirty minutes three times a week) has been shown to have powerful effects on anxiety and depression.
Local authorities in Devon (championed primarily by Mid-Devon District Council) are currently promoting a 5X30 campaign that recommends that you undertake 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 times a week. This program aims to improve the fitness and general health of residents. It is well known that exercise releases feel-good endorphins into the blood, but if you take part in an activity with other people, that in itself can be pleasurable and mood enhancing.
Apparently, after treatment, patients who recovered through exercise relapsed four times less than those who had recovered through the antidepressant. This chapter not only provides illuminating cases, but also suggestions for forms of exercise.
7) Emotional Communication
We now know that love is a biological need, on a level comparable to food and protection against cold temperatures.
This chapter is dedicated to emotional relationships, and getting the most from them and also covers dealing with conflict and criticism. Its a very fluffy, touchy-feely chapter that talks of learning to be more emotionally present with those around us, while learning how to set meaningful limits. It does make sense to me however and I wasnt surprised to read that the love of a dog or a cat has powerful effects on mood, and can reduce our responses to stress. (As any animal lover and pet owner will already know!)
This chapter identifies the need to be part of a community; to feel like we belong and have something of worth to give to others. It makes suggestions for doing just this.
~~ Summary ~~
I found this book incredibly engaging, uplifting, motivating and above all interesting. It is written so wonderfully and elegantly that it requires no effort at all to read. This book is like a breath of fresh air and offers a unique and alternative perspective to an ever-growing problem of today.
I am fascinated by everything Dr Servan-Schreiber had to say and hope that some of the methods identified in this book help guide me towards the permanent recovery of my own mental health.
If you want to know a little more check out the following website: http://www.nofreudnoprozac.org
~~ Update ~~
In all my enthusiasm, I forgot to mention about the price. RRP, and the price I paid is £7.99, and worth every penny but you can get it for just £3.99 from Amazon (so now I'm wishing I hadn't checked that, or that I had checked it before going on my impulse buying spending spree...)
¤ Paperback 304 pages (May 6, 2005)
¤ Publisher: Rodale
¤ Language: English
¤ ISBN: 1405077581
Stress, anxiety and depression are among the most common reasons for people to see the doctor. The drugs targeting these conditions are pharmaceutical bestsellers. Yet a majority of patients would like to be able to heal without taking drugs or engaging in therapy that involves talking about their problems. Dr Servan-Schreiber gathers together, in one place, the answers to the public's questions about alternatives to drugs and talk therapy. He discusses only treatment methods he has used with patients himself, methods which have been proven to work in clinical studies. Beautifully written, with many pertinent case histories, this book will be a revelation to those who dismiss alternative medicine and a godsend to those who are looking for help without taking drugs and without talk therapy.