Can Depression Be Treated Without Medication?
by Rebecca J. Stahl, MA
Depression is a serious condition that can affect every aspect of your life. To treat depression, doctors often recommend therapy and antidepressants. But is it possible to relieve the symptoms of depression without taking medicine?
This really depends on a number of factors, like how severe your symptoms are, how long you have been depressed, and what may be causing the depression. Since depression can get worse if left untreated, it is important that you work with a mental health professional to create a treatment plan that is right for you. If you are interested in treating your depression without medicine, here are some of the many options.
Working with a trusted therapist is usually one of the first steps on the road to recovery. Some of the most common therapeutic approaches are:
You can choose to have individual therapy sessions, attend group therapy, or even do both. While you may feel more comfortable working one-on-one with a therapist, being involved in a group offers many benefits. For example, you can get support from people who are also dealing with depression, share your story, and offer hope.
Herbs and Supplements TOP
There are a range of herbs and supplements that have been studied as possible treatments for depression. St. John’s wort is one that has a lot of evidence supporting its use in people with mild to moderate depression. In fact, numerous studies have found St. John’s wort to be more effective than placebo (sugar pill) and as effective as antidepressants. In addition, the herb does not have as many side effects as antidepressants. On the down side, though, St. John’s wort may interact with a range of medicines (eg, statins, blood thinners), so the herb is not safe for everyone. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration do not regulate the herb and the dosing in different preparations may vary greatly.
While many other herbs and supplements have been investigated, the evidence backing these is not as strong. Some examples include:
Never try to treat depression on your own! If you are interested in trying St. John’s wort, for example, talk to your doctor. Make sure that she is aware of any prescription medicines and over-the-counter products that you take.
Alternative Therapies TOP
If you want to try a different approach to relieve your symptoms, consider one of the many treatments that fall outside of traditional Western medicine. Some studies have suggested that these alternative therapies may be helpful:
What about acupuncture? The evidence is mixed as to acupuncture’s effectiveness in relieving depression.
Can exercise lift your mood? There is reliable evidence, including a review of 28 trials, supporting the conclusion that exercise can improve depressive symptoms in adults. Some studies suggest that exercise may be just as helpful as antidepressants.
How much exercise is enough? Once you have approval from your doctor to start an exercise routine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you aim for at least:
Taking the Next Step TOP
If left untreated, depression can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions. That is why it is so important that you get help right away! While antidepressants and therapy are the most common forms of treatments, you may have success with a combination of therapy, alternative therapies, and lifestyle changes. Work closely with your mental health professional, keeping in mind that recovery takes a commitment on your part as well.
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
The National Mental Health Association
Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Psychiatric Association
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Last reviewed September 2011 by Ryan Estevez, MD, PhD, MPH
Last Updated: 10/7/2011