For eight miserable years, John fought depression.
"It had gotten to the point where I was so short-fused with my family, I was headed for a divorce," he said.
He tried antidepressants for about a year. They helped some.
"They masked my symptoms, but I felt groggy all the time," he said. "I know fatigue is one of the symptoms of depression, but they amplified my fatigue."
Today, John, 45, is no longer on antidepressants.
"My marriage is better than ever," he said. "It's like my life - emotionally, mentally, physically - has been saved."
John, a Lawrence resident who asked not to be identified, recently completed Therapeutic Lifestyle Change (TLC), a drug-free regimen designed by Kansas University psychology associate professor Steve Ilardi.
The experimental regimen stresses:
¢ Exposure to sunlight.
¢ Omega 3 dietary supplement (fish oil).
¢ Not dwelling on negative thoughts.
Ilardi argues that depression is a consequence of the human brain being out of synch with 21st century lifestyles.
"For 99 percent of our history as a distinct species, humans have lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle," Ilardi said. "This lifestyle, it turns out, included several potent antidepressant elements: hours of physical activity, abundant exposure to natural light, extensive social support and ample amounts of omega 3 fatty acids."
As American lifestyles have become more sedentary and more socially isolated, he said, depression rates have skyrocketed.
"Since World War II, depression rates have gone up 10-fold," Ilardi said. "Today, nearly 25 percent of the American population will battle a depressive illness sometime in their lives. It's an epidemic."
Under the TLC regimen, participants are, in effect, reconnected with the lifestyles of their ancestors.
So far, 26 people - all adults diagnosed with major depression - have been through TLC. The results have been encouraging.
"Eighty-one percent have achieved a favorable response," Ilardi said, noting that a recent study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that depression sufferers on Celexa, a popular antidepressant, reported a favorable response of 47 percent.
A favorable response is defined as at least a 50 percent reduction in symptoms.
Ilardi called TLC's successes remarkable but "highly preliminary." He plans to continue gathering data for another year, after which he'll expose the program to the scientific peer review process.
"We'll be applying for some federal grants later in the year," he said. "Ideally, we'd like to be able to randomly assign patients to be treated with TLC or with medication."
For research purposes, he said, being able to randomly assign subjects to groups is the "gold standard."
Dr. John Whipple, a Lawrence psychiatrist, welcomed news of TLC's early success.
"I think (Ilardi) is providing a wonderful service," he said.
Whipple said he's also looking forward to being able to sort through the different variables in TLC's success.
"I'm interested to see if TLC is effective when depression occurs with other emotional problems as well, such as social anxiety, attention deficit disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder."
He also wondered whether depression sufferers who struggle with motivation are somehow screened out of the groups.
Ilardi said motivation was not a criteria for group participation.
Additional volunteers sought
For more information or to apply for Steve Ilardi's depression study group, contact project coordinator Leslie Karwoski, 218-6336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Applicants must be: ¢ Between ages 18 and 65. ¢ Live within an hour's drive of Lawrence. ¢ Committed to attending 12 early-evening sessions in a 15-week period. ¢ Meet diagnosis criteria for clinical depression. Applicants must not be: ¢ Addicted to alcohol or drugs. ¢ Bipolar or psychotic. The deadline for applications is Feb. 1.
"We don't intentionally screen out anyone with low motivation, but it certainly is possible that some potential TLC participants lack the necessary motivation to contact us," he said. "However, our TLC participants so far have been highly representative of depressed patients in general. If anything, they've been more severely depressed than the average patient in treatment."
More groups planned
Ilardi and his graduate students plan on launching two more TLC groups in February.
Limited to between five and eight members, the groups meet about once a week for 15 weeks. The meetings last about two hours.
Applications are being taken until Feb. 1.
"I highly recommend it," said Mary, a recent TLC graduate. "I won't say that I'm totally free of depression, but I feel much more alive than I have in the last 13 years - I was first diagnosed in 1993."
Mary, 62, said she, too, tried antidepressants.
"I quit taking them because all they did was treat the symptoms. I wanted to get at the cause," she said. "Medications don't do that. They wear off, and then you're back to square one."
Mary, who asked not to be identified, said she has always been an "exercise nut" and had little trouble adjusting to that part of the regimen.
"Where I kept falling down was on socialization," she said.
Now that she's "95-percent symptom-free," Mary says she has a new lease on life.
"I'd fought depression for so long," she said. "TLC just proved to me that I had been on the right path all along; all I needed was a little extra knowledge.
"Believe me, I've read volumes on depression," she said. "But I never found anything that works. This works."