October 22, 2014

4 Ways to Treat Depression without Drugs.

depression and friends


*Disclaimer: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal opinion, view or experience of the authors, and can not reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. This website is not designed to, and should not be construed to, provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion or treatment to you or any other individual, and is not intended as a substitute for medical or professional care and treatment.

When drugs don’t work—four alternatives to treating depression.

As someone who has suffered from depression, I know better than most that antidepressants can be a life-saver.

In fact, I credit a combination of therapy and Prozac for saving my life when I was in my early 20s.

It’s become so commonplace to use drug therapy for moderate to severe depression that many are unaware that some cases don’t respond to drug therapy or that even after years on being on a particular drug or drug combination, they can stop working. (I’ve personally known three individuals who fell into the latter).

While depression can be scary enough on it’s on, it can be even more frightening to think we may have a case were the drugs available simply do not work or don’t work well enough.

Luckily, there are alternatives to conventional drug therapy which may help to alleviate depression. Sometimes they can work in conjunction with psychological or drug therapy or they may be able to treat depression without the use of any additional therapies.

If it sounds too good to be true or smacks of pseudoscience, it’s not. All of the things discussed below have been studied and there is substantial research to support them.

Therefore, if you or someone you love happens to be depressed, read on for information about various little known non-drug therapies.

* Note: Please keep in mind that anyone who is currently being treated for or believes that they currently suffer from depression should work with a qualified healthcare provider. In no way are these meant to take the place of any current medications without the guidance of a doctor.

#1. Sleep Therapy.

We all know sleep is essential to health and a lack of it can lead to all sort of maladies but few realize that some types of depression can be caused by not getting enough of it. (In fact, some researcher’s theorize that one of the reasons older people tend to be more prone to depression is because they get less REM sleep than younger people. Depressed people of all ages tend to have less REM sleep than their non-depressed counterparts.)

A study conducted last year at Toronto’s Ryerson’s University found that “depression lifted significantly amongst those whose insomnia was cured.” It was even hailed by some as the biggest breakthrough in treating depression since Prozac.

However, lest anyone thinks that all it takes is one or two good nights sleep to achieve the same effect, it does not. Participants in this study followed a very specific procedure including waking up the same time daily and avoiding daytime napping.

Anyone interested should consult a doctor who can put them in touch with a sleep specialist.

#2. Exercise.

Using exercise to alleviate the symptoms of depression has been known for awhile. While many know that exercise releases endorphins which can help us feel better, exercise also reduces immune system chemicals which can worsen depression.

While it used to be thought that only structured exercise regimes provided any value, doctors now say that even going for a quick walk can help.

And lest anyone is still skeptical about this, at least 25 studies in the past 27 years have confirmed that exercise helps prevent depression and in some cases can alleviate or reduce the need for drugs.

#3. Magnet Therapy.

While it sounds like something out of science fiction, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration since 2008 for the treatment of patients with medication-resistant depression.

In a nutshell, TMS involves using high-powered magnets to stimulate the parts of the brain that govern the mood. This treatment, which is available only through a doctor, has been dubbed by The American Psychiatric Association’s  as “relatively small to moderate benefits” but in a recent USA Today story at least one patient in Florida, a 51 year old woman who had suffered from depression since she was five claims she noticed an difference and felt very optimistic.

While treatment is not cheap, it may be covered by some insurance plans.

#4. Diet/supplement Therapy in the Form of Omega 3 Fatty Acids.

Omega 3 fatty acids-most commonly found in the oils of some species of cold-water fish-has had some success in helping depression symptoms. While the results of various studies as to whether or not omega-3 fatty acids alone can treat depression have been mixed, “several studies have found that people who took omega-3 fatty acids in addition to prescription antidepressants had a greater improvement in symptoms than those who took antidepressants alone.”

Therefore, it’s at least worth talking to a doctor about this if we happen to already be on prescription antidepressants. While supplements may not eliminate the need for drugs, it possible in some cases, to reduce the dosage necessary to keep depression at bay.

In conclusion, depression has a well-deserved reputation as a scary, debilitating disease but it can be managed. In some cases the right therapy can make all the difference in the world. The right therapy for some may not mean drugs or only drugs.

In any case, it is worth exploring some of these with the guidance of a mental healthcare professional. No matter how we chose to treat our depression it is important that we do it with the help of a pro. While depression is treatable and may be alleviated altogether, it shouldn’t be attempted on our own.

Relephant bonus:

Relephant Reads: 

5 Ways out of Everyday Depression 

6 Unexpected Side Effects of Depression 



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Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcick

Photo: via Gerald Gabernig at Flickr



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