A top scientific adviser to the U.K. government is advising depressed people to forget drugs and take up lifestyle changes such as smiling and eating seaweed.
Jane A. Plant is a professor of geochemistry at Imperial College London. She became interested in mental health via her work in environmental health and after first-hand experience. While her previous books have focused on a range of physical conditions, she has now turned her attention to depression.
In her controversial new book, Beating Stress, Anxiety and Depression: Groundbreaking Ways to Help You Feel Better, Plant aims to “inform and empower sufferers and their families” and “give the reader the latest findings on medications commonly used and misused to treat the epidemic that is sweeping the Western world.”
The book discusses the current debate as to whether pharmaceutical drugs are any better than placebo for managing depression. Plant and co-author Janet Stephenson are both themselves former sufferers: Plant survived years of chronic anxiety after taking benzodiazepines to counteract the stress of cancer treatment, and Stephenson, herself a psychologist, suffered from psychosis that began as postnatal depression and eventually led to admission to a “frightening” mental institution.
Both authors say that those experiences left them feeling helpless and part of an often-invisible community. By writing the book they hoped to pass on what they learned about regaining their health.
Plant and Stephenson identify 10 lifestyle factors that that they believe can “dramatically reduce anxiety and depression,” as well as proposing “10 Food Factors” to improve mental well-being.
Rather than relying on antidepressants, they recommend that depression sufferers take steps such as avoiding dairy products, sending fewer text messages, eating porridge at night and playing card games. They say all their tips are based on hard scientific evidence gathered from studies around the world.
“Smiling is a way of tricking your brain into thinking that everything’s OK, even if it’s not,” says Plant. “People who are mildly depressed should do their best to show the world a happy face, as that will improve people’s reaction to you and lift your mood.”