Depression is one of the most common mood disorders out there. While a number of effective, safe, and medically-approved treatments for it currently exist, many of these involve the use of pharmaceutical drugs that can sometimes have unwanted side-effects. Because of this, some people are reluctant to use a medication-based approach, and instead choose to look for other, non-drug-based forms of treatment. In this post, we’ll review conventional and psychological approaches, and what the science currently says about them.
Disclaimer: This post is not a recommendation or endorsement for any particular type of mental health treatment. The only way to be sure you get effective treatment is to discuss your options with your personal doctor — and none of the complementary approaches described below should ever be used to replace what your doctor has prescribed or recommended. We have written this post for informational purposes only, and its goal is simply to inform our readers about the science behind some complementary treatment strategies, and what we know about how they might work. Introduction To Depression And How It Is Treat ed
Many of the most common treatments for a person diagnosed with clinical depression ( major depressive disorder , or MDD) involve the use of prescription medications (such as SSRIs) to alleviate or manage the symptoms.
While these medications can be highly effective in many cases, it is also unfortunately the case that many of these pharmaceutical drugs can potentially cause a number of unwanted side-effects in people who take them.
For this reason, some people are reluctant to rely on pharmaceutical treatments, and prefer to try non-chemical treatments instead.
However, before we begin we want to stress that this post is not an endorsement for- or against any particular mode of treatment! Nor are the strategies outlined in this post intended to be used as a replacement for conventional medical care in any way.
If you are ever diagnosed with a mental health condition of any kind, the only way to decide what the best treatment for your specific case might be is to discuss it with your doctor. Only a fully-qualified medical professional fully understands all the different advantages and drawbacks associated with the many different possible modes of treatment — and they will work with you to come up with the safest and most effective approach for your individual needs.
With that in mind, in the rest of this post we’ll discuss some of the many non-drug-based treatments for depression and other mood disorders, and what science currently says about them.
Before we get into some of the “alternative” or “complementary” strategies for potentially improving mood, it’s important to be aware of what some of the more typical treatment approaches for clinical depression are, and how they work.
The approaches below are some of the ones that you might be likely to encounter if you were to book an appointment with a traditional qualified psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional.
Many of these treatment modalities have been used for a long time, and have been extremely well-studied. Therefore, these approaches are widely-used by doctors due to their having a lot of evidence to support them. 1) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
One of the most common forms of therapy used by mental health professionals is cognitive-behavioral therapy — also known as “CBT”. This highly “evidence-based” approach to therapy is one of the most widely-used for preventing and reducing depression (as well as many other mental health conditions) [ 1 ].
The main idea behind the use of CBT in depression is to help patients change their patterns of thinking and make behavioral changes to improve coping and reduce distress [ 2 ].
CBT has been reported to be effective for both acute depressive episodes, as well as long-term prevention [ 1 ].
According to various studies (RCTs), CBT reportedly reduced depression symptoms in 177 seasonal affective disorder patients, as well as 87 patients with postpartum depression [ 3 , 4 ].
One specific type of CBT, called “acceptance and commitment therapy” (“ACT”), has been reported to decrease symptoms in cases of mild-to-moderate depression. It has also been claimed to help reduce overall severity of depression cases, as well as the occurrence of suicidal thoughts (“suicidal ideation”) [ 5 , 6 ].
According to some reports, CBT may help reduce the negative perceptions of emotions [ 7 ].
Some early neurobiological evidence suggests that CBT may work by reducing the activity in parts of the brain that are involved in emotional processing (such as the amygdala and hippocampus) as well as cognitive processing (such as the prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortex) [ 8 ].
CBT is traditionally delivered face-to-face by therapists, but is also sometimes delivered “digitally” over the internet, such as through a mobile phone or personal computer [ 9 , 10 ].
CBT is an evidence-based and widely-used approach to treating and preventing depression. It helps people alter their thinking patterns, which improves coping and reduces emotional distress. 2) Psychodynamic Therapy
“Psychodynamic” therapy is probably the therapy you most associate with mental health treatment. It focuses on conscious and subconscious feelings from past experiences, and how they affect the patient.
The effectiveness of psychodynamic therapy for depression treatment is generally well-supported. In some cases, psychodynamic therapy was as effective as prescription antidepressants [ 11 ].
Internet-delivered psychodynamic therapy for 10 weeks was reported to reduce symptoms in a study (RCT) of 100 patients with mood and anxiety disorders [ 12 ].
The results from some preliminary neurobiological studies suggests that psychodynamic therapy may act by reducing metabolic activity in the right insula, a brain region important in emotion control and depression. This decreased activity was, in turn, reportedly associated with greater symptom reduction over 4 weeks of treatment [ 13 ].
Psychodynamic therapy focuses on resolving deep-rooted, unconscious feelings that can dramatically affect a person’s mood. 3) Interpersonal Therapy
Interpersonal therapy emphasizes the social context of depression, and aims to improve communication skills and relationship-building [ 14 ].Interpersonal therapy has a few central goals [ 15 ]: increasing social support […]