How to Deal With Depression Without Medication
How can you deal with depression without medication? Drugs are not your only choice for fighting back. Read some of the other ways you have to fight depression naturally.
Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the world. Up to 5% of people worldwide have symptoms of depression, which can range from mild and intermittent to chronic and severe. This is a leading cause of disability for adults of all ages, and it affects somewhat more women than men. There are several ways to treat mild to severe depression, from a strictly medical approach to more holistic and natural treatments you can work through to find what's effective for you. Fortunately, there are options for how to deal with depression without medication, and you don't have to struggle alone.
Depression can be a very serious condition. Only your doctor can diagnose depression for you, and you should discuss your treatment options with a professional before deciding on what you want to do. This holds true whether you plan to use prescription medications or want to fight depression naturally. Always get medical advice from a qualified physician, and keep your doctor informed about how things are going.
Suicide is a major risk of depression. If you find yourself having thoughts about self-harm, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day at (800) 273-8255 to speak with a compassionate volunteer who can connect you with the help you need in your area.
What Is Depression?
Depression is a medical diagnosis for a serious mental disorder. It's different from normal sadness — the kind you might feel after a loss or life disruption. Clinical depression is often unrelated to what's going on in your life and has no obvious cause. It may come and go, and the symptoms can be mild or disabling.
To properly diagnose depression, your doctor will run through a checklist of symptoms and try to eliminate other causes for them. You might, for example, get a blood test to rule out thyroid conditions that can affect your mood. The doctor will also probably talk with you about what's going on in your personal life and try to eliminate likely causes for temporary depression symptoms.
Symptoms of depression vary by person and over time. Many of these symptoms are things everybody feels sometimes, but they rise to the level of a disorder when they happen a lot, aren't obviously connected with events in your life or physical health factors, and get severe enough to interfere with your life. Things to look out for include:
- Unexplained feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, such as a hobby, sports, or sexual relationships
- Inappropriate emotional reactions, such as angry outbursts or sobbing, or heightened levels of frustration and irritability that are out of proportion with environmental factors
- Anxiety or agitation, feelings of fear, dread, or irrational-seeming phobias about ordinary things
- Sleeping too much or not enough and the tiredness and exhaustion that go with it
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or apathy, dwelling on past mistakes, or blaming yourself for problems to an irrational or exaggerated degree
- Eating disorders, which may include over- or under-eating, binging and purging, starving yourself, or compulsively eating, especially if the foods are something you know isn't good for you
- The dramatic gain or loss of weight that goes with upset eating habits
- Trouble concentrating, restlessness, agitation, forgetfulness, and other difficulties in thinking
- Frequent, recurrent, or vivid thoughts about sickness and death, thinking about suicide or other self-harm, such as cutting
- Medically unexplainable pain, often back pain or headaches, or mysterious digestive problems, such as upset stomach and nausea
- Disrupted personal and work relationships that may not have an obvious cause, such as losing friends, broken relationships, or trouble getting along with people at work
Having one or a few of these symptoms is not proof you have depression, and everybody has some of these things from time to time. The time to see a doctor is when one or more of these issues keeps happening or when it's interfering with your life or causing distress. If you catch yourself thinking seriously about self-harm, seek help immediately from competent mental health professionals.
What Causes Depression?
You've probably heard it said that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. This is partly true, but it's more complicated than that. The billions of chemical interactions that regulate mood can be affected by all sorts of things. Your age and general health play a role in regulating chemical balance, as do your eating and exercise habits, the amount of sleep you get, your interactions with other people, and outside events, such as a death in the family or a promotion at work. No single magic bullet has been identified as the "cause" of depression, and it's unlikely that any one thing ever will be responsible for it.
Depression can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. It's especially common for women in their 20s to 40s, but plenty of men and boys develop the condition, and lots of women and girls show signs of it at older and younger ages. You can experience depression at any stage of life, and the exact causes may never be known.
That said, certain things are definitely associated with depression, and there are lifestyle choices you can make that increase the odds that you'll deal with depression. Poor diet and little to no exercise are major factors driving depression. Chronic stress and prolonged sleep disturbance are others.
How Medication Helps
When you get diagnosed with depression, it can leave you with a lot of questions, and you might not know where to start seeking answers for them. Your doctor can discuss treatment options with you, and those options are likely to start with one or another type of prescription drug.
Several drugs are available for treating mild to severe depression, and they are a mixed bag of effectiveness and side effects. No medical treatment is risk-free, and the decision to take a drug or to fight depression naturally must be made after a careful weighing of your options.
The medications used for treating depression work in different ways, but just about all of them work to increase the availability of certain chemicals (called neurotransmitters) in your brain. These neurotransmitters are serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, and the brains of people with depression often either have too little of them or they are not efficient in using what they have.
Medications that alter the chemistry of your brain can be effective in managing or alleviating the symptoms of depression, but they often come with side effects you might not like. Working with your doctor, you may have to cycle through several options before finding a combination that balances the relief you need with side effects you can live with. The FDA recognizes six different classes of antidepressant medication:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
- Norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs)
- Non-competitive N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonists
SSRIs are the most commonly prescribed medications for treating depression. These work by preventing your brain cells from sweeping away the neurotransmitter serotonin. This usually results in having more serotonin available in your brain, which can reduce the feeling of depression. They can be very effective; however, the list of side effects they come with is long and includes:
- Agitation and increased anxiety
- Nausea and/or diarrhea.
- Low sex drive or the inability to reach climax
- Headaches and dizziness
- Insomnia and exhaustion
- Dry mouth
SNRIs act much like SSRIs by increasing the amount of serotonin in your brain chemistry, and they have similar effects on depression. Doctors frequently prescribe these drugs to treat depression and anxiety at the same time. They unsurprisingly have a list of side effects similar to SSRIs.
TCAs are some of the earliest drugs approved for treating depression, though they're less popular than they used to be. Side effects of TCAs can be very unpleasant, and most doctors in the United States will try them only after other approaches don't pan out. Side effects of TCAs include:
- Increased heart rate
- Dizziness and blurred vision
- Dry mouth
- Weight gain and constipation
- Bladder issues, including retention of urine and difficulty urinating
MAOIs were the first drugs approved for treating depression, and like TCAs, they're less popular than they used to be. The side effects of MAOIs tend to be similar to those of TCA drugs, and MAOIs also tend to be used after other treatment options have failed.
Bupropion is the only drug in the NDRI class, and it's sold under the brand name Wellbutrin. Officially, this drug has been approved to treat depression and seasonal affective disorder, but doctors sometimes prescribe it off-label for a host of other psychiatric issues. You might be prescribed Wellbutrin for anxiety, bipolar disorder, or ADHD. Side effects of an NDRI include:
- Insomnia and fatigue
- Dry mouth
- Increased sweating
Non-Competitive N-Methyl-D-Aspartate Receptor Antagonists
This is a relatively new class of drugs, and they're rarely prescribed. The leading drug in this class, esketamine, isn't available in pharmacies in the United States and has to be administered at a doctor's office as a nasal spray. The FDA has recognized this drug's potential for abuse, and it is strictly regulated. Known side effects of esketamine-based drugs include:
- Dizziness and the feeling of being drunk
- Disorientation and a feeling of disconnection from the world
- Anxiety and increased blood pressure
- Lack of energy and a feeling of sedation
- Nausea and vomiting
How to Deal With Depression Without Medication
If the list of side effects from most major antidepressant medications doesn't appeal to you, or if you'd simply rather start out fighting depression more naturally, you have options. Thankfully, many people can manage or treat their depression with little or no medication. As a rule, natural approaches to treating depression focus on lifestyle changes that can bring you into a healthier balance. They have the advantage that, even if a specific option doesn't help with your depression, it's probably not acutely harmful to eat better or get more restful sleep, so they're generally good to do whether you have depression or not.
Even though many of the natural methods of fighting depression fall into the good-advice-for-anyone category, it's still important to tell your doctor about any changes you're making to your lifestyle. Even the most benign home remedies for depression can influence how your doctor assesses your symptoms, and it's worth bringing up during a consultation.
You have a lot of options for how to deal with depression without medication. Some of the most popular and promising are discussed below.
How to Fight Depression Naturally With Exercise
Human beings are built to get a certain amount of exercise during each day, and a major suspected cause of depression is people not getting enough of a workout. Picking a type of exercise you enjoy and will keep doing can even be as effective long-term as some antidepressant medications, according to studies on the topic of how to fight depression naturally with exercise. If you haven't regularly exercised in a while, or if you're obese, have a medical condition, or you just don't know where to start, talk about exercise plans with your doctor and follow their medical advice.
How to Treat Depression Without Medication Via Diet
Poor diet is another major driver for depression. Eating a diet that's high in sugar, saturated fats, and other delicious but unhealthy components contributes to weight gain and is associated with generally poor health. A very unbalanced diet may even induce nutritional deficiencies and trigger bouts of depression on its own. Switching to a healthier diet — one that skips the sweeteners and preservatives — can have a tremendous effect on how you feel generally.
Meditation is the act of deeply relaxing and clearing your mind of intrusive thoughts. It's a form of disciplined restfulness, and doing it for 30-60 minutes a day can improve your well-being and may reduce the symptoms of depression you feel. It may be an especially effective depression treatment without drugs for people with mild or irregular bouts of depression.
Natural Supplements for Depression
Natural supplements are dietary aids that can address imbalances caused by poor or inadequate eating habits.
What are some of the best vitamins or supplements for depression? In some cases, taking vitamins, minerals, or specially formulated food products, such as various vegetable oils and omega-3 fatty acids from fish, can make you feel much better and give you extra energy. These effects vary from person to person, and you should always get a doctor's advice before significantly changing your diet or starting a new supplement.
How Can I Improve My Mental Health With Talk Therapy?
Sometimes it helps to talk to someone. Clinical psychologists, social workers, and other counselors are trained in talking with people who have disorders like depression, and they can do some people a world of good. Popular talk-based treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which may help you recognize the signs of depression and take action to manage them before they get out of hand. This is usually an ongoing therapeutic relationship you might need to maintain for years to treat your depression.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)
Transcranial magnetic stimulation, also known as TMS therapy, involves using magnetic fields to stimulate the brain's nerve cells in a controlled way. This doesn't hurt, and it seems to stimulate the brain to release the same neurotransmitters that prescription drugs do. TMS can be done without any invasive procedures or drugs, and it's generally safe for anyone. Perhaps best of all, you don't have to go to the doctor to get treated this way; you can buy a TMS device that's been cleared for use by the FDA and use it at home.
How Long Has TMS Been Used to Treat Depression?
TMS has been used as an effective drug-free medical treatment for depression since 2008.
When Did the FDA Approve TMS for Depression?
The FDA allowed TMS to be marketed for use in treating depression in 2008. By 2013, it had expanded approvals to allow TMS to be marketed for use in treating some other conditions, including migraine headache pain.
How Successful Is TMS?
TMS is considered a fairly successful treatment option for depression. According to information published by Harvard Health, between 50 and 60% of patients who are unable to find relief from depression with medications do find significant relief with TMS. Around a third actually report a full remission of their depression symptoms.
Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation (CES)
Cranial electrotherapy stimulation is also a non-invasive treatment. It delivers current via electrodes placed on the head or earlobes. The stimulation can have positive impacts on brainwaves and functions to help reduce clinical symptoms of depression. Like TMS, the treatment doesn't hurt and is considered safe in many cases.
Is CES Cleared for Treating Depression?
Yes, CES is cleared for the treatment of depression, and are popular among patients and practitioners. If you're interested in trying CES for treating depression, talk to your provider about what the best CES device for you might be.
Takeaways and Conclusion
Depression is a serious mental health issue affecting millions of Americans and countless people around the world. You don't have to suffer alone from depression, and there are treatments available that have proven highly effective. In addition to medications with harsh side effects, you can often treat your depression with simple lifestyle changes. You can also find long-lasting relief from FDA-cleared TMS therapy that works in your own home and doesn't come with the risks of invasive medical procedures or drugs. If you are looking into how to deal with depression without medication, TMS or CES may be one of your best options today.