Major depressive disorder affects a significant portion of the American adult population. Approximately 17.3 million American adults, equaling 7.1 percent of the population over the age of 18 each year, struggle with it. Depression is more common in women than men, and 1.9 million children between the ages of three and 17 are diagnosed with the condition. Adults with depression have a 64 percent greater risk of developing coronary heart disease.
Depression can range from minor to severe, and those living with it can experience devastating effects. Severe depression can be debilitating and cause a person to be chained to their bed and disturb the quality of their lives. It has the power to keep you from going to work or leaving your house altogether. Depression can be so severe that it’s considered a psychiatric disability under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).
If you’re struggling with depression, it’s possible that a doctor has recommended medications to alleviate the symptoms. If you’ve taken them and didn’t like how they made you feel, you might wonder if there’s a way of treating depression without medication. But is depression treatment without medication possible? Fortunately, we’ll provide a list below of alternatives to antidepressant medication. Depression is a wide-ranging condition, and there are several types. It must be diagnosed by a medical professional. But what are some alternative depression treatment options? Learn how to get out of depression without medication.
Types of Depression
It’s common to feel down every now and then. Maybe you got out of a long-term relationship or had some bad grades in school. It’s natural to feel sadness, but for those with depression, it affects their daily life, and you’ll notice sadness most of the time. It’s a condition that requires treatment, whether natural or with medication, and changes to your lifestyle.
As was described above, there are several different types of depression, and events in your life can cause some, while changes in your brain will cause others. No matter the cause, the first step is to let a doctor know how you’re feeling. It’s possible they refer you to a mental health specialist to determine the type of depression you’re experiencing. The diagnosis is crucial to decide on the proper treatment for you.
You may hear a doctor refer to this as “major depressive disorder.” You may have this type of depression if you experience symptoms most of the time for most days of the week. Other symptoms that indicate you have this type of depression include:
- Being tired and having very little energy
- Losing or gaining weight
- Loss of pleasure or interest in your activities
- Inability to fall asleep or feeling sleepy throughout the day
- Feeling guilty or worthless
- Feeling agitated or restless, or very sluggish and slowed down mentally or physically
- Trouble making decisions or concentrating
- Suicidal thoughts
If you experience five or more of the symptoms above, your doctor could diagnose you with major depression. At least one of these symptoms must be a loss of interest in activities or a depressed mood. For this type of depression, talk therapy is beneficial if you’re unwilling to use medication.
Persistent Depressive Disorder
If you experience depression that lasts two years or more, it’s considered persistent depressive disorder. The term is used to describe two conditions previously known as chronic major depression and dysthymia (low-grade persistent depression). Symptoms include:
- Fatigue, or a lack of energy
- Changes in your appetite (overeating or not eating enough)
- Low self-esteem
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Feeling hopeless
- Inability to make decisions or concentrate
Psychotherapy is an exceptional option to treat this condition.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Seasonal affective disorder is major depression that occurs during the winter months when the days are shorter, and you receive less sunlight. It usually goes away in the spring and summer. This kind of depression is commonly treated with light therapy.
Those who experience “psychotic depression” will have all of the signs of major depression, alongside other “psychotic” symptoms that include the following:
- Paranoia (wrongly feeling that others are trying to harm them)
- Delusions (false beliefs)
- Hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that don’t exist in reality)
These are only a few of the depressive disorders that exist. For an accurate diagnosis, you should get in contact with a medical professional.
You would like to avoid medications, or if you can’t take them for medical reasons, you should talk to your doctor about therapeutic options. Therapy is an important aspect of effective mental health treatment for many people. In many cases, the best treatment options involve a combination of medication and therapy.
There are several therapy options when it comes to treating depression. General talk therapy can help many people work through problems with a therapist. However, behavioral therapies are evidence-based approaches designed to address specific issues related to mental or behavioral health.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the most common types of therapy used to treat mental health needs. It was initially developed to create relapse prevention plans for people with substance use disorders. However, it’s been adapted to treat a wide range of problems, including depression, anxiety, marital problems, eating disorders, and even severe mental illnesses. CBT is an evidence-based therapy, which means scientific research supports its effectiveness.
CBT is rooted in Stoicism, a philosophy that emphasizes positive responses to challenges. Someone with a depressive disorder can’t help how they feel or the symptoms they experience, but they do control how they respond to symptoms. Likewise, CBT examines your thoughts and how they lead to positive or negative behaviors. CBT is based on the following principles:
- Psychological problems are partly based on unhelpful thinking.
- Psychological problems are partly based on learned patterns of unhelpful behavior.
- You can learn better ways to cope with psychological problems, which can relieve symptoms.
You will explore common triggers and high-risk situations that may contribute to depressive symptoms. Once they are identified, you will develop effective coping responses that may prevent symptoms or at least prevent them from becoming unmanageable.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy developed to treat borderline personality disorder. However, it has also been adapted to treat other common problems, including depression anxiety, eating disorders, substance use disorders, and suicidal thoughts or actions. While CBT is rooted in stoicism, DBT is rooted in mindfulness. Mindfulness is the philosophy of paying attention to your immediate bodily sensations and surroundings objectively to keep yourself in the present. DBT uses mindfulness to help you acknowledge emotions without being overwhelmed by them.
A major principle of DBT is acceptance and change. You will learn to accept your circumstances and mental health disorder while making positive changes to help cope with things like depression.
Other Options for Depression Treatment Without Drugs
For those seeking a more natural approach to the condition, learning positive coping skills is a must. The following techniques below are supported by medication prescribers and scientific research as methods that help depression. These skills are commonly recommended as essential parts of treatment, even for those using antidepressant medications.
Please note, these are suggestions, and if you’re already using antidepressant medication, you shouldn’t stop abruptly without your doctor’s approval.
By practicing the following coping skills when experiencing depression, you can help improve your wellbeing. At first, it’s understandable if you aren’t motivated to do these at first because depression zaps motivations. Feeling unmotivated is normal until you’re halfway done.
Exercise is an important part of physical and mental health, especially if you live a sedentary lifestyle or have a job that requires you to sit for long hours. Exercise is often presented as a cure-all, much to the annoyance of people who hate working out. However, regular physical activity really can improve many aspects of your health.
Moderate exercise five times a week for 30 minutes a day can dramatically increase your mood. Moderate exercise describes a level of activity where singing from your diaphragm is challenging.
Exercise can even improve things like chronic pain and other health problems that may contribute to depression. If you don’t know where to start, talk to your doctor about how you can create an exercise routine for your needs.
In addition to training, you should also pay attention to the food or drinks you’re consuming as they influence your mood. A “fad” diet is unnecessary, but anyone will be depressed if they binge on junk food, carbs, and energy drinks—everything in moderation.
Eating too many calories or sugary foods can lead to health problems that contribute to depression. But eating too little or eating nutrient-poor food can also be damaging to your mental health. Certain nutritional deficiencies can contribute to poor mental health. A blood test can reveal if you have certain vitamin deficiencies or malnutrition problems.
Find a Small Way to Be of Service to Others
It’s crucial to find personal meaning by serving something bigger than yourself. It doesn’t need to be big to count, but as long as you do something for someone else, you can find meaning in yourself.
Find Reasonable Goals That Provide Accomplishment
In most cases, those with depression will feel guilty when they talk about goals because they set unworkable and unreasonable goals. Goals are workable only if:
- It’s something you can control and doesn’t depend on others
- It’s something that’s manageable and not overwhelming
- It’s something realistic for you and not someone else
- It’s measurable, and you know whether it’s getting finished or not
If something goes wrong with the goal, adopt a “what can I learn from this” type of attitude instead of judging yourself. You should never compare your progress to others.
Schedule Pleasant Events or Activities
You should never “wait to be in the mood.” If you’re struggling with depression, it’s likely the mood won’t happen without some coaxing. Give yourself permission for a 30-minute vacation, or try to schedule healthy hobbies each day. When you do these activities with the right attitude and practice gratitude, it will help you immensely. Make sure to take the time to notice what went well today and not what went wrong. A gratitude journal might also be helpful.
Stay in the Present
This is sometimes known as “mindfulness.” Try to stay in the present during activities and not in your head self-judging. It’s possible you can’t turn off the self-judging, but you have the power to notice it and try to shut it off. People with higher self-compassion also have higher self-confidence and self-worth.
Eating Right and Exercising
Moderate exercise five times a week for 30 minutes a day can dramatically increase your mood. Moderate exercise describes a level of activity where singing from your diaphragm is challenging. In addition to training, you should also pay attention to the food or drinks you’re consuming as they have an influence over your mood. A “fad” diet is unnecessary, but anyone will be depressed if they binge on junk food, carbs, and energy drinks—everything in moderation.
Focus On Those Who Lift You Up
You should frequently interact with individuals who uplift you rather than those who bring you down. Alone time is vital for a healthy mental state, but you must find a balance where you cannot isolate yourself as your depression will linger.
Keep a Regular Sleep Schedule
It’s vital to focus on a balanced sleep schedule where you aren’t sleeping too little, but you also aren’t sleeping too much. Staying up late one night and sleeping in the following day is one way to feed into your depression. Also, you shouldn’t try to solve problems late at night when your brain is half-awake.
Can I Get Over Depression Without Medication?
The answer to this question is yes – it’s possible. However, for some, a chemical imbalance may require chemical relief, but remember, practice makes perfect. As you continue practicing the coping skills discussed above, just know that you’re on the path toward overcoming depression.
Depression will linger when a person makes up a reason why they can’t do these things. No matter the medication you’re taking, committing to these activities daily, especially when you’re not in the mood, is crucial to the treatment of depression. Positive coping skills require practice and take time, but if we don’t take the time to be well, the period of feeling unwell will force it on you later.