We Have a Dream That One Day Depression Won’t Be Stigmatized

Mental Health

By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

Martin Luther King is known for his tireless fight for civil rights. But what you may not know is that he suffered throughout much of his life from something many Americans currently have -- depression. In fact, it has been reported he had severe depression.

In 1967, King’s personal physician said to him, “Martin, I think you’re depressed. I think you would benefit from specialist treatment by a psychiatrist.”

“For about a year, King had become the opposite of his usual self. Before, he had been bubbly and upbeat; now he was morose. Before, he had been optimistic; now he was fatalistic, convinced not only that he would die soon but also concerned that the whole civil rights movement would prove to be a failure,” according to this report.

King, understandably, had much to be depressed about. He lived during a period when his race made him the target of hatred and violence. But King also reportedly suffered from depression long before he became a major force in the civil rights movement.

Multiple reports, including this one from Time Magazine, state King tried to commit suicide twice before the age of 13 by jumping out of a second-floor window from his home. The first attempt was due to his grandmother being injured, and the second attempt was because she actually died from a heart attack.

King was also reportedly hospitalized throughout his life for periods of “exhaustion.” He lost interest in most things, couldn’t concentrate and was low in energy. Some say he had manic depressive illness, also called bipolar disorder. His impairments or abnormalities may be difficult to imagine when you consider the hundreds of motivational speeches he delivered and peaceful marches he led (all the work he did, in general).

But every day, many people function "effectively" with depression. There are even research studies that suggest depression may increase our ability to feel empathy towards others. One columnist suggested, “King's nonviolent resistance can be understood a politics of radical empathy, an accepting of one's enemies as part and parcel of advancing one's own agenda.” Indeed, some may not even realize that they are depressed. This does not, however, mean that depression should be ignored or swept under the rug.

So today as we honor the work and bravery of this amazing leader with such a magnificent mind, let’s also acknowledge how we can be proactive about depression.

Depression remains one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. It is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

And according to a series of recent studies, yoga may be a very effective way to treat depression.

Yoga is one of the top 10 complementary health approaches to health. More than 13 million adults in the U.S. practiced yoga in the past year or so, and 58 percent report using yoga to maintain their health and well-being (this includes mental health). Yoga helps put you in a meditative state and release stress, which may help with symptoms of depression.

In one study, researchers found that breathing-based yoga practiced for just a couple of weeks helped people with depression who were not responding well to antidepressant medication. And as we recently discussed, good breathing is critical in order to get oxygen to your brain to remain healthy.

Reportedly, 10 to 30 percent of patients with depression either fail to respond to antidepressants or experience only mild improvements paired with severe side effects.

Many of these side effects caused by prescribed medications are also the result of nutrient depletion. Being nutritionally balanced is critical for preventing and treating depression.

So if you feel like you are battling depression, consider taking a yoga class or even looking up yoga tutorials on YouTube. Be proactive about learning how to locate treatment services in your area and other ways you can reach out for help.

Overcoming and managing depression is often about taking whatever small steps you can. It may involve exercise, nutrition or counseling so you can feel better and get mentally healthy.  

Moving forward despite your hurdles is important as you make your way through life. As Martin Luther King said: “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.

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