From struggling to thriving: Integrative health helps sisters navigate depression, anxiety

August 17, 2023  By: Louie St. George

Otelia, Lacie and Talula Laurich

Sisters Otelia and Talula Laurich were struggling.

It was early 2022, and Talula's sleep was erratic at best. The then-12-year-old couldn't shut her brain down. She would be awake into the wee hours of the morning, aimlessly scrolling on her phone or pacing around her bedroom, and then be lethargic the next day. Talula also had been recently diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety disorder.

Otelia, meanwhile, was deep in the throes of depression. She had "zero energy, zero motivation," and her anxiety was debilitating, with "panic attacks all throughout the day." Otelia, then 16, admits to having suicidal thoughts and tendencies.

"It was not an easy way to live," she says. "It was very difficult to have to continue surviving through it."

Laurich family

Their mom, Lacie Laurich, was determined to get help for her daughters. The first step was to find a reputable integrative health specialist. Lacie sought a provider she could trust and one that her daughters would be comfortable confiding in. The search led her to Dr. Teja Dyamenahalli at Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth.

Consistent with the genesis of integrative health, the goal was to probe below the surface, uncover the root causes of the sisters' struggles and devise holistic and customized treatment plans.

Dr. Dyamenahalli met first with Talula. Eventually, she began treating Otelia, as well. There was a lot of work to do, a lot of ground to cover. And that is another of the core principles of integrative health — it's not a quick fix. Success requires transparency from patients and a willingness to try new things.

The Laurich family bought in almost immediately. Their comfort level with Dr. Dyamenahalli allowed them to open up and share “some serious things.” Lengthy conversations early on helped Dr. Dyamenahalli see the whole picture, where the sisters were coming from and what needed immediate attention. With a solid foundation established, Otelia and Talula were accepting of new and unconventional approaches to treatment, including acupuncture and self-hypnosis.

"It does require that they are willing to open up and talk to me and trust my recommendations," Dr. Dyamenahalli says.

WATCH: In this video interview, Otelia and Talula discuss their integrative health journey with their mom, Lacie, and Dr. Dyamenahalli.

Inherent to integrative health is the belief that people have an innate healing capacity. Too often, however, external stressors — school, work, nutrition, screen time, sleep — obstruct that ability.

People end up "in a place that's so overwhelming they just get stuck," Dr. Dyamenahalli says. "The practical how of getting out from under all of those issues is difficult. And it takes time."

Medications can help alleviate symptoms and play an important role in the healing process, but they don’t always address the root of the problem, "which is our goal in integrative health," according to Dr. Dyamenahalli.

Lacie says it was during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the family was spending more time together at their Eveleth home, that she started to notice little quirks, which eventually became red flags.

They were especially evident with Otelia, who Lacie says "was always just like a mini adult."

"When she was in first grade, she’d get up and make eggs for herself in the morning before school, and she’d help her sister," Lacie recalled. "All of a sudden, I'm like, 'Why aren't you getting your schoolwork done? Why isn't this happening? Why isn't that happening?'

"And then it was like, something is really wrong. She (Otelia) said, 'Mom, I need help.' "

Before Otelia could make progress, she had to acknowledge something was amiss. It was her idea to start meeting with Dr. Dyamenahalli, thanks in part to positive feedback from Talula.

"I had to realize that normal people aren't OK with dying, so there is something not right," Otelia says. "I have to see if I can change this."

Talula, Lacie and Otelia Laurich

With a holistic focus, integrative health pairs conventional medicine with other evidence-based natural treatments. While medications may be prescribed, they are only one tool in the toolbox. Lifestyle solutions, such as increasing intake of whole foods and improving sleep quality, play critical roles. At Essentia, the integrative health clinician works with each patient to create an individualized care plan, which may include mind-body therapies like aromatherapy, acupuncture, massage therapy, meditation and yoga; nutrition counseling; supplements; prescription medications; referrals to behavioral health, chiropractic or osteopathic manipulative therapy providers; as well as recommendations for classes and support groups.

Buoyed by their embrace of new ideas and a commendable work ethic, Otelia and Talula experienced breakthroughs with Dr. Dyamenahalli. Successes began to accumulate. Their sleep schedules improved — Otelia no longer needed 25 milligrams of melatonin to fall asleep, a dose she had settled on herself (one milligram is the typical starting dose). She says learning self-hypnosis, and performing it before bed, would help her drift off immediately.

Likewise, Talula, who was homeschooled at the time, used to need two hours to get out of bed after waking up. The thought of starting her day was overwhelming.

"So I would end up starting school around noon because that was when I finally was ready enough to try and do anything," Talula said.

That process takes about 15 minutes today.

Along with improved sleep, their anxiety and depression subsided — an improvement that also was enhanced by medication. Both sisters say not only did Dr. Dyamenahalli and integrative health reverse their struggles, but they're now equipped with the resources to help themselves.

"When I had my sleep under control and I had good restful nights, my anxiety disappeared," Otelia says. "I didn't have panic attacks, I didn't have anxiety attacks and I didn't get as nervous so quickly, even just in day-to-day activities.

"A couple months ago, I was calling the suicide hotline. I was taking different kinds of medications. I was taking different kinds of supplements. I had all kinds of doctor's appointments and doctor's visits and therapies. Two months later, now I don’t have to do any of that."

Said Dr. Dyamenahalli: "They now have this resilience that they've been able to identify in themselves."

That progress isn't lost on those around them.

"I was reviewing my notes from our first visit. They have come so far, and it's not because of me," Dr. Dyamenahalli says. "It's because of the work that they've put in. They wouldn't be where they are if they had not put the work in and said, 'Yes, I need to do this for myself.' "

The work isn’t over. Lacie likened Dr. Dyamenahalli to a tour guide, helping to navigate the sisters' path forward and prepare them for life’s curveballs.

Laurich family snowboarding

"It's pretty amazing to watch them grown and be able to help themselves," Lacie says. "It gives me a lot of relief to know that as they grow, these are things they are going to keep with them, they are going to keep using. They've seen red flags and they know what to do when the red flags come up."

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