For years, medical science has attempted to simplify depression and attribute it merely to a lack of serotonin. Increasingly, this idea is being disputed within the psychiatric, neurological and psychological communities. Numerous serious papers by well-respected scientists have been published doubting this theory. In fact, more recently, the whole basis of prescribing anti-depressants and the initial study called STAR*D has been called in question with some people referring to it as fraudulent (see below article from The Psychiatric Times)

So, what might be the real cause and how can it best be treated?

  1. The multi-chemical and multi-brain site theory: (see Havard Article below) – on the basis of brain mapping and scans such as a SPECT and other tools, scientists have been able to identify brain areas and multiple neurotransmitters that may be involved with depression. Whilst this is probably true, it does not take into account the ability of the mind to shape the brain!
  • Hereditary Factors: A number of studies have linked depression to a variety of gene expressions. However, this can seem very fatalistic and Bruce Lipton’s classic: The Biology of Belief strongly suggests that in general hereditary factors of physical and mental health require a “belief” environment to activate them.
  • Adverse Childhood Events and Trauma: Any psychotherapist will be able to testify to the truth of this – heal the earlier events (e.g. EMDR Therapy) and the depression often goes away.
  • Emotional Suppression and Not Meeting Needs: Emotional suppression involves holding back feelings sometimes to the point of complete dissociation so that feelings can no longer be felt. Alongside this there may be excessive people pleasing, negative self-talk, defense mechanisms and not meeting fundamental needs of communication, socializing, connecting, leisure time etc.
  • Social and Environmental Factors: James Davies wrote an interesting book: Sedated (how modern capitalism created our mental health crisis) in which he points to how the causes of depression have been attributed to individuals but how the cause in many cases is linked to factors such as poverty, stress, living conditions, social and economic deprivation, unemployment etc
  • Gut Biome.  In recent years, considerable research has proven the link between our gut biome and our mental health. Dr William Davies – author of Super Gut – goes even further. He suggests that many people (as a result of antibiotics, poor eating habits etc) now have gut dysbiosis which results in the over population of the gut with bad bacteria and fungi or even the loss of important species of bacteria. In some cases the bacteria and fungi have migrated to the small intestine (SIBO and SIFO) from where they pass through the gut wall to organs such as the brain. He discovered he was able to alleviate depression and anxiety by repairing the gut wall and by introducing specific bacterial strains.
  • Inflammation: Inflammation is a natural response of the body to injury or infection. However, chronic inflammation can lead to a host of health problems, including depression 1. Inflammation can cause depression by affecting the brain’s neurotransmitters, which are responsible for regulating mood 1. A recent study found that individuals who have higher levels of a specific inflammatory marker known as C-reactive protein (CRP) are at a higher risk of developing depression within five years 1.
  • Specific Foods and Diet: We live in an age of obesity and diabetes, both which are significantly linked to depression and anxiety. Though controversial, some people have found that removing wheat from their diets significantly alleviates depression. Another obvious food (non-food) is sugar. I personally have seen numerous clients who were sugar addicts and who had been diagnosed with clinical depression or even bi-polar mood disorder, stop eating sugar only to find all their symptoms disappear.
  • Vitamin D: There are many nutritional components that may be off balance or missing with depression but the obvious and common one is Vitamin D. Here in Ireland, I see so much Seasonal Affective Disorder – which essentially means people become depressed when there is less sunshine because their vitamin D levels drop.


I think it is important to distinguish between mild, moderate, and severe depression, the latter being difficult to treat by yourself and which almost certainly needs professional help. Mild and moderate depression may respond to one or more of the below:

  1. Psychotherapy: Before becoming a transformational coach, I spent years as a psychotherapist, and I saw many people reduce or completely get rid of depression. Whilst there are many potential techniques (e.g. CBT, person centred psychotherapy, ACT, Brief Therapy, EMDR etc., the research seems to suggest that it is the connection with the therapist and the space of being heard that is most important.
  2. Deep Transformational Coaching: Most standard coach training is inadequate to help people with depression – it may even make it worse. But Deep Transformational Coaches such as I am trained to work with clients at a much deeper level. Transformational coaching in many ways bridges the gap between therapy and standard coaching in that it includes healing the past, welcoming the present and creating a better future, as well as letting the mind shift into a higher level of being. Creating a better future is especially important for people with depression who often need to learn to perceive the future in a more hopeful way. Some of the work involves learning to re-connect to yourself, discover your values, and needs and develop new mental habits and ways of thinking. I have seen people who failed to alleviate their depression with therapy become super positive with transformational coaching.
  3. Neurofeedback: I spent years training people’s brains with NeurOptimal® Neurofeedback. I saw remarkable outcomes.
  4. Repair your Gut Biome: I strongly recommend reading and following the protocol given by Dr William Davies (Super Gut) – this is extensive and quite expensive but well worth it.
  5. Clean up your diet: remove junk food and processed food. Get enough vegetables, olive oil. Experiment with cutting out wheat and experiment with intermittent fasting e.g. no eating between 18.00 and 08.00 the next morning. Make sure your blood sugar levels are balanced and address issues you might have with insulin resistance (this may involve seeing a nutritionist)
  6. Connect: Depression makes you insular. It makes you want to stop doing the things you used to enjoy. Make yourself reconnect to people, to hobbies, to fun things even it if it is a struggle initially.
  7. Exercise: Numerous studies have shown that exercise is more effective than medication to lift both depression and anxiety. It also makes us health and helps us to live longer.
  8. Journalling: Writing down your thoughts and feelings in many instances helps you to let them go. Some studies have shown that this is superior to therapy!
  9. Welcoming: Sometimes, it is just part of life to shift into depression for a while – the causes are not always clear, or you are on a healing journey that is not yet complete. Resisting how you feel just makes it worse. Welcome how you feel without trying to make it go away and then ask your inner wisdom what would be helpful right now!


Depression and Exercise:


The Psychiatric Times: Questioning the STAR*D study and protocol:


Questioning the Serotonin Theory of Depression (high level scientific article)


Psychology Today: The relationship between depression and inflammation


Havard Health: What causes depression (multi brain site view)


Science Daily: A Study on using vit D to study depression (the study shows a mild benefit – better than placebo – in my opinion the doses of Vit D were way too low!)

Vitamin D supplementation seems to alleviate depressive symptoms in adults | ScienceDaily

Article Written by Steven Lane, Transformational Coaching, Accredited Coach Practitioner EMCC and Psychological therapist, www.achangeofmind.ie