Ask a Therapist: How Can I Overcome Depression Without Medication?

Strategies for Treating Depression Without Medication

Depression can be treated without medication.

Verywell / CSong

In the “Ask a Therapist” series, I’ll be answering your questions about all things mental health and psychology. Whether you are struggling with a mental health condition, coping with anxiety about a life situation, or simply looking for a therapist's insight, submit a question. Look out for my answers to your questions every Friday in the Healthy Mind newsletter.

A Reader Asks

I’ve felt depressed for the past few months. My physician recommended medication but I’m not big on taking pills. My husband is afraid they’ll change my personality. I am more afraid I’ll experience side effects. How can I overcome depression without medication?

Amy's Answer

There are many different ways depression can be treated. And while medication is one option, it’s not the only option. It's wise to want to explore alternatives to antidepressants before making a decision.

Types and Severity of Depression

Depression is used as an umbrella term to describe a lot of different symptoms. There are actually several different types of depression. And depression can vary greatly in severity. People with mild depression may not even know they’re depressed and their friends and family may not recognize it either.

People who experience severe depression may struggle to function. Everyday tasks, like getting out of bed and taking a shower, can feel too overwhelming to tackle. Therefore, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment for depression. Depression treatments can range from self-help strategies all the way to inpatient hospitalization.

And while it’s unclear what type of depression you have or how severe it is based on your question, medication may not be the only way to feel better. There are other things you can try.

Your Concerns About Medication

It’s great that you’ve talked to your doctor about your depression. Many people don’t bring it up with their doctor unless they’re directly asked. Starting a conversation is a great way to learn more about treatment options.

All medication has a risk of side effects and antidepressants are no exception. Perhaps your husband knows someone who warns against taking a certain medication because when they took it, they just didn’t feel like themselves. Or maybe you’ve seen commercials for medications that warn of a lengthy list of potential side effects, ranging from weight gain to lack of sexual desire.

Sometimes, the side effects sound like issues that could even make you feel more depressed. After all, trouble sleeping (which can be a side effect of some medications), might ultimately contribute to depression.

The good news is, with careful monitoring from a physician, side effects can usually be managed. It may mean changing doses or switching medications altogether. 

If you didn’t have a chance to ask your physician questions about medication options, it may help to do so. You might also inquire about a referral to a psychiatrist—a doctor who prescribes in mental health medications. You can always ask questions about which medication a doctor would recommend to learn what you might expect in terms of side effects so you can make an informed decision. 

And it may be helpful to involve your husband in your appointments. He may benefit from learning about different medication options and get any of his concerns addressed as well. 

Talk Therapy

Like many people, you might wonder how talking to someone could help with depression. But therapists can create custom treatment plans based on your needs and your symptoms. Therapy may include anything from learning how to manage specific symptoms (like irritability) to gaining emotional support for something that happened in the past.

You could ask your physician for a referral to a therapist or you might ask someone who goes to therapy if they have someone they recommend. You could also look for an online directory of local therapists and reach out directly.

Keep in mind, you can talk to a therapist online if you prefer. Most online therapy sites offer a variety of communication methods, such as messaging, live chat or video appointments. 

Self-Help Strategies

There are many other strategies you could do on your own to get help. For example, you might find self-help books about depression to be quite useful. Whether you’re looking for first person accounts or you’re interested in books written by experts, bookstores and libraries are usually filled with books that can address depressive symptoms. 

There are also many apps, courses, and podcasts that can help with depression. Some of them target specific skills that can reduce depression, such as meditation. Others are more general. There are also plenty of online depression support groups you could join. Most of them are free of charge. 

Coping Strategies

You might find it helpful to do a little research on the strategies that can help depression. When you’re depressed, your brain will essentially try to convince you to do nothing. It might tell you to stay in bed, isolate yourself, and remain inactive.

But the less you do, the worse you’ll likely feel. So the best way to combat depression often involves going against what your brain is telling you to do. Getting some physical activity, talking to friends and family, and doing things you enjoy (even when they don’t necessarily sound fun at first), could help you feel a little better.

Of course, during the pandemic, a lot of your “go to” enjoyable activities might not be options. So you may need to try some new things. But experimenting with different activities can be an important part of your recovery. You might discover coping skills like yoga, meditation, reading, writing in a journal, or going for walks ease your symptoms. You won’t know, however, unless you try. 

Press Play for Advice On Coping With Depression

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast featuring country singer/songwriter Chase Rice, shares how to cope with depression. Click below to listen now.

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Alternative Treatments

There are several treatments for depression that are backed up by anecdotal stories of people who say certain things helped their symptoms. But, there isn’t enough research behind them for them for scientists to declare them effective depression treatments. Here are a few examples:

  • Acupuncture: Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medicine that involves unblocking channels of energy within the body. It involves fine needles being inserted into specific areas of the body.
  • Reflexology: Reflexologists apply pressure to different pressure points in your feet, hands, ears, and face.
  • Herbal remedies: Herbal remedies, such as St. John's Wort and ginkgo biloba are often used to treat depression. Most can be purchased in a health food store or pharmacy.

Schedule Another Appointment

The best place to start, is by having another conversation with your physician. Discuss what you’d like to try as a first line of defense to ensure your physician thinks the strategy is a good fit for your particular type of depression and the severity you’re experiencing.

By Amy Morin, LCSW, Editor-in-Chief
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.