5 Medication-Free Options for Treating Severe Depression

5 Medication-Free Options for Treating Severe Depression

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Many patients who are diagnosed with depression are prescribed antidepressants like Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil. While these medications work for some, for others, they fall short of minimizing symptoms. For patients with severe depression or medication-resistant depression, there are other treatments to consider.

Keep reading to learn about 5 options for treating depression that don’t involve medications like SSRIs and antipsychotics.

  1. Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

ECT is one of the most serious forms of treatment for severe depression though it’s proven to be extremely effective in minimizing symptoms for certain treatment-resistant patients. The form of therapy works by creating a controlled seizure in the brain. Seizures are a burst of synchronized energy that can be targeted in certain regions of the brain to impact brain wave pattern and activity. With ECT, patients are given a muscle relaxant and anesthesia to prevent the physical effects of a seizure such as convulsions. While the idea of a seizure sounds scary, patients only experience cognitive side effects.

While minimal side effects include headaches, jaw pain, and nausea, the most serious side effect associated with this treatment is memory loss. After ECT therapy, some patients report the inability to remember recent memories. This tends to clear up weeks or months after ECT sessions have ended.

  1. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

TMS is an evidence based and FDA-approved treatment for depression, including severe depression. TMS therapy works by creating a strong magnetic field that creates an electric current in the brain. This current is designed to pinpoint specific regions of the brain that are either dysfunctional or underactive. In those with depression, the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is often underactive. Since this area controls mood, depressive symptoms are common. TMS is sometimes able to restore normal function to the interconnected brain regions that deal with the mood regulatory network.

In order for TMS to be effective, doctors must take careful measurements in order to locate the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Once located, doctors determine the appropriate magnetic field strength to use. To determine this level, an electromagnetic coil is placed over the part of the cortex that controls muscular movement. A magnetic pulse is then applied to cause the thumb to twitch. This measurement is then used to determine the right magnetic field strength.

Treatment typically lasts up to 40 minutes and sessions range from five days a week to each day. Most patients undergo TMS treatments for 4-6 weeks. Side effects are also minimal, including headaches and nausea.

  1. Acupuncture

While many think of acupuncture as being used to treat stiff joints, pain in the body, and inflammation, this Chinese medicine treatment has also proven to be useful in alleviating symptoms of depression. In fact, some studies have found that acupuncture is more effective than Prozac! While the idea of small needles being inserted into your skin may seem painful, many say that the treatment is anything but. With acupuncture, there are rarely adverse side effects to worry about.

  1. Light Therapy

Do you find that you tend to experience long periods of sadness during the winter? Shorter days, which mean longer periods of darkness, can have an impact on your internal clock. In turn, this can cause temporary symptoms of depression. This is known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a form of severe depression.  Symptoms include:

  • Sadness around the same time each year
  • Irritability
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Trouble concentrating

Light therapy, which exposes patients to light that mimics natural outdoor light, has proven to be useful in minimizing SAD symptoms.

  1. Exercise

As someone with depression, it can be hard to find the energy and drive to get out of bed some days, let alone to make time to exercise. Though it can be hard to find the motivation, physical activity has shown to be extremely beneficial in minimizing depression symptoms as well as stress and anxiety.

When you exercise, your body releases dopamine and norepinephrine, both of which are mood boosters. The good part about exercise is that it can be any activity you enjoy. Yoga, running, swimming, and even hiking are all great ways to get your heart going and to release some of those depressive symptoms.

Once you get into the mindset of exercising a few times a week, set goals. As you meet these goals, you’ll feel better about yourself which can also help to alleviate the negative thinking and behavior that comes with depression.


Looking to treat your depression without having to use medication? If so, keep these 5 options in mind. Not only are they effective, the adverse side effects are generally much less worrisome when compared to antidepressants.

Donald Phillips

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