A natural and effective approach to mental health is proving a big help to depression sufferers, writes Maeve Halpin
new lease of life: Tracy Quinn's road to recovery started after reading 'The Feelgood Factor' (right)
Relationship break-ups would precipitate a 'meltdown'
At any given time, up to 400,000 people in Ireland suffer from depression. Rates of sedative and tranquilliser use are increasing, especially among professionals and senior managers. Many people are struggling with ongoing mental health issues, depending on daily medication to function.
The suicide rate in Ireland is higher than the European average. The personal, social and economic cost of mental illness is high and continues to rise.
A novel form of therapy is now available that may provide hope for some sufferers. Two Irish doctors, father-and-son team Edmond and Andrew O'Flaherty, are at the forefront of providing a powerful and effective form of psychiatric treatment called nutrient therapy. First developed in the 1950s in Canada, nutrient therapy assesses the balance of nutrients present in the patient's bloodstream. Doses of specific nutrients are then prescribed, with each treatment tailored to the unique biochemistry of the individual patient.
Tracy Quinn believes that discovering nutrient therapy saved her life. Tracy's parents split up when she was 16, and at 18 she moved back to Ireland from New Zealand with her mother and younger brother. Having dropped out of school and feeling stranded in a new country with no friends and no sense of direction, she slid into depression.
Although medication helped at the time, she was at the beginning of a rollercoaster of mental health problems that continued throughout her 20s. These episodes of depression were followed in her late 20s by periods of crippling anxiety. Relationship break-ups would precipitate a "meltdown", which necessitated further medication.
"It was awful," says Tracy, "and it got worse over the years. I would feel useless, despairing, lost, full of self-criticism. I could say I have a degree in being lost."
The hopelessness of her situation, lurching from one depressive episode to another, led her to seriously contemplate suicide on more than one occasion. In 2011, Tracy checked herself into a psychiatric hospital. However this wasn't the experience Tracy was hoping for. "The only intervention was that I was checked every 15 minutes," she explains. She didn't feel the benefit of this particular approach. After 10 days, she left and was lucky enough to be able to stay with her mother, where, with rest and nourishment, her health gradually stabilised.
It was during this period that Tracy happened on the book 'The Feelgood Factor' by Patrick Holford. "I had always asked the doctors if there was a blood test or something that could find out what was going on with me, because I felt there was something wrong with my bio-chemistry, but they all said 'no'."
Holford's book was her first introduction to the concept of nutrient therapy, leading her to consult Dublin-based nutritionist Helen Corrigan.
"Helen explained to me about the importance of diet, exercise, mindfulness, meditation, social contact – she was the first person to talk to me about the whole-person approach," says Tracy.
Going on to do retreats with the Hippocrates Institute that combined the holistic approach with group therapy, Tracy dealt with her past issues and traumas while developing new life skills for recovery.
Tracy stopped taking anti-depressants on Christmas Day 2011. Although she felt great at first, by March she was slipping back into anxiety and depression.
"The anti-depressants were creating the brain chemicals that I needed to stay well, but when I came off them, there was nothing to replace them," she explains.
This was when a friend recommended that she see Dr Edmond O'Flaherty. "Meeting Dr O'Flaherty changed my life," says Tracy.
"He sent me to St Vincent's Hospital for a blood test and started me on a course of nutrients, including zinc, B6, PFP, Vitamin D, fish oil and L-Methionine. I had been taking B vitamins, but this test identified exactly which imbalances needed to be corrected. Dr O'Flaherty also put me on an anti-depressant for a while, which I now no longer need.
"I take eight nutrient tablets a day now, am doing a course I love and getting good grades. I have loads of energy and feel positive and optimistic about my future.
"I have dealt with my past issues in therapy and now that my brain biochemistry is balanced correctly, I have never felt better in my life!"