It is time to talk about depression
Nov 2020

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After new research found 'magic mushrooms' can help relieve depression, Dave revisits this disease that is eroding many of our lives and reflecting on alternative treatments.

By the time depression manifests, it is already very late in the secret progression of the disease.

Disease? Yes, depression is a disease, with symptoms and a range of treatments. These treatments can range from a purely chemical approach, to intensive psychological treatment and even invasive medical procedures.

In Robertson, where I grew up, I remember all too well how a neighbor, once a year when the river came down to our house, walked slowly to the bridge. As pale as half a lifetime indoors, and neatly dressed in corduroy velvet, he looked at the bubbling water, turned around, and then walked home – until next year. He used to be a leading sheep farmer, and while going to Australia to buy sheep, he collapsed from a paralyzing psychic attack. The doctors admitted him to a hospital, and performed a prefrontal lobotomy on him.

Check out the Netflix series “Ratched” if you want to watch the awful procedure.

Here is a short excerpt:

Another ancient procedure was electroconvulsive therapy, in which electric shocks were administered through the patient’s temples to try to calm the storm in the brain. Today, with better anesthesia and electronic control, it is being applied selectively again.

Electroconvulsive therapy was applied in 1957 at Winwick Hospital in Chesire, England. The procedure is performed under general anesthesia, in which small electrical currents are sent through the brain, which intentionally causes a short attack. The procedure seems to cause changes in brain chemistry that can reverse symptoms of certain mental health conditions.

And then came focussed medicine.

One of the first drugs was the metal lithium, a brutal instrument that showed just too many side effects. But with the advent of serotonin reuptake inhibitors, we have entered a new field. Subtle and slow of onset, we nowadays have a powerful weapon against depression.

Yet I would think that this kind of treatment – effective as it may be – is not the final solution to this digestive condition, because the underlying problem is not necessarily addressed.

Old ones make a comeback

And now, after decades of contempt and warnings of deepening damage, centuries-old treatments are resurfacing, with astonishing success.

Ayahuasca, a hallucinogen from the rainforests of South America, is currently being clinically tested, especially in Canada, and the results are astounding. Only one treatment can stop untreatable depression in its tracks.

The stick of the South American plant Banisteriopsis caapi is boiled to make an extract of Ayahuasca. It is then usually drunk during spiritual ceremonies by residents in the Amazon.

The same is true for peyote, with the active ingredient mescaline, which is increasingly being used to effectively treat addiction and depression.

A Peyote flowering.

We live in extremely unstable times, and it seems that depression is on the rise, most likely because our ability to diagnose accurately has improved immeasurably.

We live, with constant tension, in an environment where pandemics are raging, our finances are under pressure and relationships are increasingly under pressure. It is in these times that we are plagued by theft, bankruptcy, and, surely, one of the most destructive events, betrayal.

I think it is time for us to talk about this problem with greater openness, and to give new treatments a fair and ethical chance. It would be reckless to enter the field of hallucinations without medical supervision, but just as reckless to write off new and significant research as quackery.

So many people live in the mists of depression and unhappiness.

It’s time for a change, and it’s time for our alternative treatments to stand a chance.

Each of us, our brothers and sisters, has a right to happiness, or a measure of happiness. No one understands the loneliness of depression, until it hits you, or when one day, like magic, you see the light again, and feel the sun on your skin.

  • Are you struggling with depression? Contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group here.
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