Oskaloosa resident Sue Westwind said she suffered from depression and anxiety most of her life.
She began having migraines when she reached puberty. When she married, she wanted to have children but couldn’t.
She adopted two baby girls, Natalya and Starra Zweygardt, who are about 11 months apart in age. By age 3, Natalya was diagnosed with autism.
Meanwhile, Westwind continued to suffer from depression. She had more migraines. She had symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome and all-over joint pain.
“I was absolutely stressed out about autism, and my own health was terrible,” Westwind said. “I didn’t know if I was going to be able to take care of my kids and then it just kind of hit me, ‘Why don’t I try some of the nutritional strategies that I am working on with Natty?’”
At age 48, Westwind eliminated dairy and gluten from her diet.
“Honestly, within two weeks, my life was turning around. I had energy, clarity, optimism — things that I had just never really experienced before.
“I lost 30 pounds and the main thing is just the negative patterns of thought that I had worked on in therapy for decades just really literally went away. It just stopped.”
Westwind also learned she needed to avoid caffeine, as just one cup of green tea can trigger a migraine. Now, she is migraine-free.
Westwind wants to help empower Lawrence residents by sharing her story and bringing a handful of health experts together on May 6 to talk about natural solutions for depression.
She hopes the community event — “Healthy Body, Healthy Mind” — kicks off a new support group for mental wellness.
“I want people in Lawrence to know what’s out there for resources,” she said.
Power of food
Hilary Brown, owner of Local Burger, 714 Vt., will be among the speakers.
She firmly believes food is tied to the mind, and the effect is more powerful than most people think.
Since childhood, Brown said she suffered from headaches, ear infections and attention-deficit disorder. In her early 30s, she decided to see a naturopathic doctor and found out that she had multiple food allergies. She stopped eating gluten, dairy and eggs, among other things, and started taking supplements.
“It was the greatest thing ever,” Brown said. “I could focus because I had my mind back and I could think clearly. For the first time in my life, I felt like I could finally be Hilary.”
She also will share the short documentary “Localize Me,” when a 29-year-old fast-food junkie ate only meals from her restaurant for 30 days. He lost 20 pounds and lowered his blood pressure and cholesterol level. She plans to share some of her restaurant’s fare at the May 6 event.
“I am definitely passionate about the power that food can have on one’s mind.”
Stephen Ilardi, an associate professor in psychology at Kansas University, will share his six-step program — Therapeutic Lifestyle Change — to protect against and help treat depression.
“They are not rocket science. Yes, they are hard to do when you are depressed, but it is not impossible,” he said. “I’ve seen patient after patient make it happen.”
The six steps are: aerobic exercise, omega-3 fatty acids, sunlight exposure, sleep, social connection and engaging activity.
“These are really basic sorts of thing that most people just don’t really realize just how potent they are.”
At KU, Ilardi and graduate students have been conducting clinical trials that compare TLC therapy with other usual treatments for depression, which usually means taking medication. So far, the results have been “very encouraging and very striking,” Ilardi said.
His wife, Maria Ilardi, also will be at the “Healthy Body, Healthy Mind” event. She has been an advanced registered nurse practitioner at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center in Lawrence for nine years.
“There’s many things that someone can do before using anti-depressant medications to treat depression,” she said.
Her suggestions are similar to those in the TLC program. Among them are: aerobic exercise, sleep, omega-3 fatty acids and social support.
“When people get depressed, they tend to withdraw and they stop seeing the social contacts that they normally would see. I encourage people to be as active as possible and not spend a lot of time in bed sleeping or sitting in front of a TV. Really any activity will decrease depression.”
Stephen Ilardi said depression is an epidemic. One in four adults suffers from the illness, a rate he believes will only increase.
“We face an epidemic as a country because we were never designed for the pace of 21st century life,” he said. “We were never designed for the sedentary, socially isolated, indoor, poorly nourished, sleep-deprived, frenzied pace of 21st century life.”
And the economy is not helping.
“Obviously, if you can’t pay your bills, you are going to have more stress and more anxiety and more depression,” he said.
— Health and environment reporter Karrey Britt writes a health beat blog and is also on Twitter.com.