10 Alternative Drug-Free Depression Treatments for a Better You This Year

When you get sick, you probably go to the doctor, take medicine, rest, and feel better in three to five days. The same can’t be said for depression treatment — though many people hope for an equally quick and simple fix.

Treating depression is a complex process that regularly requires a combination of several treatment methods. Medication alone is often insufficient for the treatment of depression. While antidepressants offer benefits for some, many people experience negative side effects and delayed therapeutic onset of up to 6-8 weeks. Depression medication is also known to be ineffective for those experiencing severe or treatment-resistant depression.

In 2011, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) updated its guidelines emphasizing the need to customize a treatment plan for each patient based on a careful assessment of symptoms. Combination therapy has been associated with significantly higher rates of improvement in depressive symptoms, increased quality of life, and better treatment compliance, especially when treatment is needed for longer than three months. In addition, being proactive at the onset of depression symptoms may help to prevent a relapse in the future.

Taking a holistic approach to caring for your entire wellbeing is a step in the right direction no matter where you are in your journey with depression. Instituting lifestyle changes that correct factors known to contribute to depression is a choice with no risk but the potential for tremendous reward. In one individual’s holistic approach to severe depression, they were able to taper off their depression medications and score lower on anxiety and depression assessments through self-management.

A healthy body contributes to a healthy brain, and a healthy brain is more resistant to depression. Because depression is almost always caused by multiple factors, a multifaceted approach to treatment is recommended. If you’re looking to start feeling better by taking your mental health into your own hands, the following alternative depression tips have been shown to help reduce depression symptoms when combined with a doctor-approved treatment plan.

    1. Psychotherapy encompasses several types of talk therapies. Some of the most effective include Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT), Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Problem-Solving Therapy (PST), and Behavioral Activation (BA)/Contingency Management. Patients in an individual, family, couple, or group setting work with professionals to eliminate or control troubling symptoms so they can function better in their daily life. About 75% of people who enter psychotherapy report a benefit from it.


    1. Mindfulness is based on cognitive therapy, specifically focusing on a person’s thoughts and behaviors as risk factors for relapse. Journaling (like using a bullet journal) after completing treatment or while in remission reduces the risk of relapse or recurrence.


    1. Positive affirmations are sentences that help us change our beliefs when the self-defeating thoughts that accompany depression take over. Psychology shows the willingness and belief of the individual to embrace positive affirmations increase the likelihood that these affirmations will make a positive impact. There are several free resources on the internet you can use for your own inspiration. Write them down on Post-it Notes and spread them around your home for reminders throughout the day.


    1. Yoga practice can modulate stress response systems by reducing heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration. One study found that yoga alleviates symptoms of depression, and the effects were long-term. 


    1. Healthy eating with a balanced diet may also help to alleviate depression symptoms. Depression has been linked with diets low in several nutrients. After implementing diet changes, it takes roughly seven to ten days before a noticeable improvement in mental function develops. Peak improvement occurs after three to six months. Focus on eating fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains. Plant-based sources of omega-3 fats, folic acid, and B12 are preferred. Avoid refined foods.


    1. Sleep – or lack thereof – contributes to and results from depression. If you’re having trouble sleeping, start implementing a healthy sleep routine that limits screen time an hour before going to sleep and includes a warm bath prior to bedtime. Avoid exercise or large meals right before bed.


    1. Meditation is the active training of the mind to accept feelings and thoughts without judgment. It can be beneficial with just 5-10 minutes per day, and longer stretches of 30-40 minutes can achieve even deeper relaxation. Researchers at Johns Hopkins found that meditation can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.


    1. Bright light hitting the retina increases serotonin production. It is also thought to increase nighttime melatonin levels and restore circadian rhythm for better sleep. Aim for 30 minutes of daily sunlight—especially morning light.


    1. Physical exercise can decrease symptoms of depression by helping to lower stress and boost energy levels. According to the APA, daily exercise increases levels of serotonin and normalizes sleep patterns—both factors which are thought to impact depression. Aim for 20-60 minutes per day at least three times per week.


  1. Social support plays a big role in depression as humans are social beings by nature. Depression is a disease of isolation, and it’s important to take baby steps to get back into society. Create commitments you need to meet, such as attending a weekly class or caring for another living thing such as a plant or pet. Connecting with other people and the community allows us to cope with problems, improve self-esteem, and develop a sense of autonomy.


If you feel you’ve tried everything in your power to treat your depression and are still suffering, there are alternative depression treatments available that may help you. Ketamine Infusion Therapy is one such treatment. With an 83% success rate, higher than most other depression treatments, and faster results, more and more patients are turning to this breakthrough treatment. If you’re wondering if ketamine therapy can work for you, contact our patient care coordinators to discuss your options.


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