'Treating depression' and 'sugar' - the stories the papers got SO wrong

Friday 7th Sept 2012

  • ‘Happy Pills’ are not the only way in treating depression
  • Sugar barons escape censure once again – why?
  • Natural ways to alleviate the nightmare of Restless Legs

The popular press has been catching up on some of the stories that I covered in the Good Life Letter some time ago.

I’ve long held the suspicion that our letters are required reading for health editors across the land, and two pieces this week have done little to dispel it.

Story 1 – The huge rise in anti-depressant prescriptions

My letter of the 10th August concerned the role that vitamin D can have in combating depression, despite the fact that many of our GPs seem to reach for the quick fix from the pharmaceutical cabinet instead.

I wrote:

‘Of course, the common approach to depression doesn’t involve anything quite as natural as looking for vitamin imbalances.

‘Figures from the NHS’s Health and Social Care Information Centre showed that 46.7 million prescriptions for anti-depressants were issued in England alone last year.

‘46.7 million! There are only 65 million of us living in England, why is this number of pills acceptable as a way to deal with the effects of modern life?

‘I feel a comment from Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, might just have hit the nail on the head. He said, ”Doctors may just be relying on antidepressant prescribing rather than offering patients alternative evidence-based interventions such as psychological therapies or exercise prescriptions.”

An article in the Times of the 28th August picks up this concept and took the case of a poor chap who had lost his father and suffered a relationship break up – his GP has had him on full strength anti-depressants for four years!

The report goes on to say that there are ‘rules’ about such cases which means that a sufferer has to be offered ‘talking therapies’ (which I guess means specialist counselling, but the ‘Thunderer’ clearly can’t bring itself to say so!) first, and only if this fails then begin chemical therapy.

Apparently this is a rule that is regularly flouted... really, who’d have guessed it!

The bit in this article which I do take issue with comes towards the end of the piece where the journalist says that the rise in rates of use of anti-depressants is due to demand from people who are feeling under pressure.

I really detest this kind of journalism because it makes out that the drive to prescribe more and more pills is down to the patient.

Let’s just think about this can we?

Patients don’t spend 7 years being trained in the dark arts of chemical treatment.

They do not spend their entire working day dealing with a range of conditions and illnesses.

And they certainly do not have access to a wealth of research showing how a range of options are open for treatment.

No, all that is the role of the GP.

It might be that a patient arrives in the surgery saying that they feel out of sorts and need a way to deal with it. They might even say that someone down the pub suggested that anti-depressants may help.

But they are hardly holding a gun to the doctor’s head.

Let’s stop blaming the sufferer and focus on finding the most effective and safest ways to help those suffering depression – rather than just grab at the first drug that comes to the GP’s hands.

Story 2 – Secrets of sugar addiction

The Daily Mirror picked up on the whole hidden sugar story which began to hit the headlines following the TV programme ‘The Men Who Made Us Fat’.

The story in the paper on the 28th (again!) offers a seven point plan to wean yourself off of sugar, which I summarise below:

1. Cut down gradually

2. Eat a low glycemic (GI) diet

3. Eat little and often

4. Keep a food diary

5. Banish cravings

6. Sleep easy

7. Stay on the wagon

Now, this is all good advice to take on board for our general eating habits.

BUT once again it looks like the sweet tooth effect is OUR fault – which is pure rot, in fact pure tooth rot!

As so many people have said, and I covered on the 15th June, the problem is with the food manufacturers who are acting like drug dealers, loading food with huge amounts of hidden sugar which builds and feeds our habits as effectively as if it was heroin.

Why can’t the press bring themselves to name names and show how the huge profits that line the big boys pockets are being earned from our national health – for every pound they amass it probably costs the NHS two pounds to fix the problems they cause.

Come on Fleet Street (or wherever you are now), start to put your investigative power to the test and help the minnows like me challenge the shocking state of processed food.

If you dare.

And finally...

Just so today’s letter doesn’t come across as a pure Collins rant, I thought I’d pass on a little advice for a common problem.

Several readers have asked me about how to deal with Restless Leg Syndrome, a condition that causes a range of symptoms into the legs at night.

In some cases it results in involuntary movements, in others altered sensations verging on pain.

If you get annoyingly jumpy legs at night, try a couple of these tips first, and see how you feel.

- Cut down on caffeine - it will reduce the symptoms dramatically. This includes tea as well as coffee, by the way. And check the labels on soft drinks too.

- Try folic acid - many people who get restless legs believe that a shortage of folic acid is the problem. So up your intake of beets, steamed leafy green vegetables and spinach. Try eating liver or kidneys too.

- To lessen any mental stress, anxiety or nervousness when you sleep, try putting some chamomile and lavender under the edge of your pillow, near your head.

- Lightly stretch you lower limbs - try some gentle stretching in the morning and just before bedtime, every day. But don't overdo it.

- Go for a deep massage - but make sure you go to a trained practitioner.

I really hope this helps at least some of you – in any case it is better than reaching for the drugs!

Yours, as always






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