Transcript: Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona: dealing with depression. 18 December 2008

How to deal with depression in the face of the holiday season, and how to heal.

Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona is the newly appointed director of psychopharmacology and associate professor of psychology for Argosy University in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was previously working in Canada as a professor of psychiatry and a psychiatrist. He used to work down in Arizona with Dr. Andrew Weil with the program in Integrative Medicine there at the University of Arizona Medical School. He's been an emergency room physician. He has a PhD in psychology, an MD and so is a psychiatrist as well. He's the author of numerous books, including "Narrative Medicine".

Thom Hartmann interview with Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona 18 December 2008

[Thom Hartmann] This is the holiday season right now and it’s a really tough time for a lot of people in the United States. I mean just a genuinely tough time for many people. In part because it’s the holiday season, in part because our country is rapidly sliding into a depression. In part because, you know, many people are just experiencing tough times. The Burlington County Times article headline – “Homeless Mother Dreads Holidays: single mother and a seven-year-old daughter are homeless this Christmas season. She and her daughter have been moving from place to place with no stable home to call their own. Although she works two jobs – there’s no money left over to buy her daughter a Christmas present.” Another one, "Economy contributes to Holiday Blues"

. This in the Columbus, Ohio newspaper. "There is no question that Holidays are fun and exciting but while some at this time of year want to spend time with family and friends, others find themselves with a case of the holiday blues and the economic situation isn’t making things any better."

In my own life, I’m seeing this. I got an email from an old friend a couple of days ago that was essentially a suicide note. I mean I’m not -- in fact he used that word in it. I have a friend in San Rafael who is very, very ill right now. I visited my family back in Michigan a couple days ago. We saw my mom. I’ll be amazed if she makes it through ‘til next Christmas. I mean this is a difficult time for many people’s families for reasons of health, for reasons of – but then you lay the Holidays on top of it, and it gets even more complex.

And so my favorite house guest is with is – Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona. He is the newly appointed director of psychopharmacology and associate professor of psychology for Argosy University in Honolulu, Hawaii. Just moving there, Lewis was previously working in Canada as a professor of psychiatry and a psychiatrist. Used to work down in Arizona with Dr. Andrew Weil with the program in Integrative Medicine there at the University of Arizona Medical School. You’ve been an emergency room physician. You have a PhD in psychology, an MD and so you’re a psychiatrist as well. And the author of numerous books, including "Narrative Medicine". The upcoming “Narrative Psychiatry", Coyote Medicine", "Coyote Healing", "Coyote Wisdom" — a Native American person who has transcended and bridged those two worlds – of Native American Medicine, traditional medicine and Western Medicine. Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona – welcome to the studio, Lewis.

[Lewis Mehl-Madrona] Thanks Thom. It’s great to be here.

[Thom Hartmann] It’s great to have you here. And it’s always great to have you here. You pass through here a couple of times a year and I’m always pleased to have you in our guest room.

[Lewis Mehl-Madrona] Yeah, it’s great!

[Thom Hartmann] Hang out with you in the evening, and it’s always great to put you on the radio because you have so many brilliant insights into these things. What are the -- first of all, what are your thoughts on, as a psychiatrist, and a professor in these areas – what are your thoughts on pharmacology versus things like support groups, for example? I mean, people are experiencing deep depression during the holidays, or they’re having a really tough time with it. First thoughts on this?

[Lewis Mehl-Madrona] You know, for the most part, I think that antidepressants don’t work that quickly, if they work at all. Except for bipolar depression, which if you had that your would know it because it would have been going on for a really long time.

[Thom Hartmann] For most of your life.

[Lewis Mehl-Madrona] For most of your life. And so I think what works quickly are friends. What works quickly is exercise. And I think that friends will get you through times of no money much better than money will get you through times of no friends.

[Thom Hartmann] Um, hmm.

[Lewis Mehl-Madrona] And what I tell people is call everyone you know and invite them to a meeting. Get them to come to your house. If you don’t have a house, go to their house. And get people together to talk about how to help each other feel better during these depressing times.

[Thom Hartmann] We were talking last night about healing circles, the Lakota tradition, the native American tradition.

[Lewis Mehl-Madrona] Right, right. In Lakota it’s called a Hachoka, and everyone has one. Everyone belongs to a group of people who look after each other.

[Thom Hartmann] Now this is literally so much a part of, interwoven into culture, much like in Western culture, everybody has a doctor sort of thing. This is just a given that you have a…

[Lewis Mehl-Madrona] Right – it’s just a given. And usually in traditional society every Hachoka has an elder who looks after the people too and helps them to – you know, talks to them about their problems – helps them to change stories – does ceremony for them.

[Thom Hartmann] Yeah. And I’d like to invite our callers, by the way, 866-303-2270—if you have a story about how you have dealt with Holiday Depression, I’d love to hear those stories. We’d love to hear those stories. If you have questions for Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona, feel free – 866-303—2270 our telephone number.

Lewis, the Native American tradition of having this hochoka – the healing circle – I don’t know of any parallels in American life, and in fact, if anything it seems like it seems like it’s the modern hospital, the modern psychiatrist’s office – is the antithesis of this.

[Lewis Mehl-Madrona] Right, and that’s what we have to change. The only parallels that I’ve found are prayer circles or healing circles in Quaker meetings. And my goal is that everybody has a healing circle. Because you need people and really, when you think about it, what’s the most anti-capitalist thing you can do? Is to reach out to other people because then you are not going to be consuming all these pharmacological substances and you’re going to be helping each other which is the populist thing to do.

[Thom Hartmann] Healing yourself and healing your community.

[Lewis Mehl-Madrona] Right.

[Thom Hartmann] We were talking last night and this was a conversation that you and I have had many times over the years about the fascinating studies on placebos versus antidepressants, whether it’s the old Benzo drugs or the newer SSRI – the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors – and in fact, going back 30 years, the studies on placebos versus morphine for pain.

[Lewis Mehl-Madrona] Right.

[Thom Hartmann] And they found 30 years ago that when the doctor believed that the placebo – the sugar pill that they were giving the patient – when the doctor believed it was a new and improved painkiller – more effective than morphine – about half the time, the patients said that it was stronger than morphine in knocking out their pain.

[Lewis Mehl-Madrona] Right. Isn’t that amazing?

[Thom Hartmann] Yeah, and with the antidepressants, what’s the result of the new studies on antidepressants versus placebos?

[Lewis Mehl-Madrona] Big study. University of Ottawa. They used the Freedom Of Information Act to get every study that had ever been done and not just the ones that the drug companies published. Turns out no difference between placebo and antidepressant for depression. However, placebo was really powerful. Half the people got well on placebo. And what that shows is the power of the mind. If you believe it, it works.

[Thom Hartmann] So, you know, there is kind of a two-edged sword here – if you believe in your healing circle, it will heal you. If you believe in your prayer, it will heal you. If you believe in your homeopathic medication, or your your sugar pill, it will heal you.

[Lewis Mehl-Madrona] You’re fifty percent of the way there, absolutely.

[Thom Hartmann] And so by you and I talking about this, and saying to people, “hey, find something you believe in – it will heal you!” in a way we’re sort of setting up that not happening because we are pulling back the curtain and showing people how the brain works. But isn’t it real also that even with that intellectual knowledge most people have at some gut level something that they believe in that will heal them?

[Lewis Mehl-Madrona] Absolutely. And if you don’t have it, then find a friend who believes in you and that’ll work too.

[Thom Hartmann] Really, How?

[Lewis Mehl-Madrona] Well, you know, I’m calling it the Pygmalion Effect from the play of the same name, and it turns out that if enough people around you believe in you, you’ll change. And I’ve even done therapy this way where the patient doesn’t even come in and 20 of their friends keep coming every month and they change.

[Thom Hartmann] That’s amazing. Now you made a comment last night – when we were talking – you said in this context and you said, “And therefore if you believe in Prozac, you should take Prozac.”

[Lewis Mehl-Madrona] Absolutely. If that's what you believe in, I’ll write you the prescription. Of course I have to see you face to face to do that. So get it!

[Thom Hartmann] Yeah. But this is not an anti-medication screed.

[Lewis Mehl-Madrona] No.

[Thom Hartmann] What we’re talking about here is just the reality of the modern studies on what actually works and what doesn’t work. Religion works, pills work, the healing circles work.

[Lewis Mehl-Madrona] Exercise works.

[Thom Hartmann] Exercise works. When you believe it. Now does exercise work if you don’t believe it?

[Lewis Mehl-Madrona] You probably won’t do it if you don’t believe it.

[Thom Hartmann] Ah.

[Lewis Mehl-Madrona] If you’ll do exercise, even if you don’t believe it, it will work.

[Thom Hartmann] So, that’s the one exception perhaps.

[Lewis Mehl-Madrona] That's the one exception.

[Thom Hartmann] That is remarkable. We are talking with Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona, MD, PhD, professor of psychopharmacology and associate professor of psychology at Argosy University in Honolulu, Hawaii. And the author of a whole string of books, many of you are probably familiar with Lewis’s work – he’s a real rock star in the field of alternative medicine. His books, “Coyote Medicine,” “Coyote Healing,” “Coyote Wisdom,” “Narrative Medicine,” and he has a book coming out July of next year called “Narrative Psychiatry.” And getting into broadly this whole topic of how do we heal? And where does healing come from?

Lewis, we've got to take a break right now and I want to come back on the other side of it with our callers and so Stephanie is going to fire off the music right this second and we will come right back because we have a bunch of people with questions and thoughts on this topic that I’d like to bounce off you.

So your calls to Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona – 866-303-2270. If you want to drop into our live chat room, will get you there. Our live video stream is over at It is 16 minutes past the hour, right here on the Thom Hartmann program. Taking back the Mainstream Media, three hours a day, five days a week.


Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona took questions for two segments.

Transcribed by Caleb Burns.

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