‘Hygge’? Why High50 is welcoming new breakthroughs in tackling depression

We’ve been hearing a lot about ‘Hygge’ this week, partly because the Happiness Research Institute has found that Danes are the happiest people in the world. ‘Hygge’, sometimes translated as ‘cosiness’, means cherishing the small things in life and enjoying curling up in front of a fire in a candlelit room amongst friends.  There are no less then nine books about ‘Hygge’ scheduled for publication this autumn so it will soon be hailed as the latest wellness trend.

For those of our in our fifties and beyond who have suffered or are suffering from depression, lighting the odd candle and snuggling up on the sofa may not quite cut it. It’s no surprise that some of us have sneered at this cosy-cosy approach (see John Crace’s  piece in this week’s The Guardian) while we’re staring at the prospect of a long, bleak winter.

However Rachel Kelly, who wrote so movingly about her own journey to recovering from depression in her book Black Rainbow, thinks any move away from medication towards a more holistic approach is welcome.

‘Anti-depressants don’t address the actual causes of what makes life challenging.  There is a transitional age group in which we’re very vulnerable,’ Rachel says.  ‘The work place has changed and we’re up against short-term contracts or facing redundancy or the end of our careers.  Relationships have changed, we don’t have an extended family in the same way we used to and many of us are facing marriage break ups or our children moving away.  Some of us have lost an elderly parent or even our partner. What triggers depression and anxiety is a sense of loss and we’re all facing loss, even if just of confidence, as we get older.’

Once again Episode Two of the ITV series Cold Feet was spot on this week, as we watched the character of Pete, humiliated by having to drive a taxi to make ends meet, succumb to a profound and numbing depression.  Thank you Cold Feet for keeping the issues that are so relevant to our generation alive and on air.

Rachel’s book, Black Rainbow, charts her recovery from depression, partly through reading poetry.  Following the success of the book, Rachel, who is an ambassador for SANE and vice president of United Response, wrote Walking on Sunshine: 52 Small Steps to Happiness, which fast became a best-seller.  On Thursday 15th September she is running a workshop How To Walk on Sunshine at City Lit in London as part of this week’s Mental Wealth Festival.  Tonight, Wednesday 14th, she kicks off a series of talks on the healing power of poetry at The Idler Academy in London.

Rachel has also collaborated with Warwick University’s on-line learning team to devise their on-line course Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing.  Already 26,000 people have signed up for the course which covers all those topics that are facing our age group : stress, heartbreak, bereavement, trauma, depression and bipolar, ageing and dementia.

‘We need a broader, holistic approach to mental health, a physical as well as a psychological approach,’ insists Rachel.  ‘It’s not just, “Take a pill and you’re sorted.”  While it’s bad news that so many older people face depression, the good news is that we’re finally seeing the evidence that a holistic approach to depression works. 90% of Serotonin is made in the gut so there is a lot of research going on now about the link digestive and mental health.  In the 17th century Descartes split physical and mental health and that has formed attitudes towards mental health for centuries. Now everyone knows that mental and physical health are not just connected –  they’re indissoluble.’

Rachel’s new book, The Happy Kitchen : Good Mood Food, written with nutritionist Alice Mackintosh, about how to eat to stay calm and well,  is released in January 2017.

For Depression and Mind Alliance, Rachel is running a nutrition workshop next month at St. Charles’s Hospital, London, with Second Half of Your Life Foundation, a charity founded by author Jill Shaw Ruddock who wrote her book about life after the menopause, The Second Half of Your Life.

We’re delighted that Rachel Kelly is working so tirelessly to continue providing practical solutions to the burden of depression that our age group shoulders and we celebrate her own recovery from the illness.

Rachel’s top five foods for staying calm and well:

Salmon: oily fish is full of omega-3s, which help boost your mood if you are feeling low.

Live yoghurt: 90 per cent of the happy hormone Serotonin is made in our stomachs. Yoghurt helps balance our digestive system by encouraging healthy bacteria in our guts.

Dark chocolate: contains magnesium, which is calming if you tend to be anxious. Only go for good quality 70 per cent dark chocolate and eat in moderation.

Green leafy vegetables such as kale and cabbage: the fibre they contain contributes to the health of our digestive system and a happy gut. They are also a good source of Vitamin C, which boosts the immune system and your physical health, which in turn impacts your mental health.

Calming herbal teas especially lemon balm and valerian: help you wind down and get to sleep if you suffer from insomnia, especially a combination of the two.