Alternative Treatments for Depression: Are They Effective?

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According to the American Psychiatric Association, depression affects an estimated one in 15 adults (6.7%) in any given year. And one in six people (16.6%) will experience depression at some time in their life. But what exactly is depression? Depression is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home. Symptoms must last at least two weeks for a diagnosis of depression. The good news is that this illness is also treatable.

While the exact cause of depression isn’t known, a number of things can be associated with its development. Generally, depression does not result from a single event, but from a combination of biological, psychological, social and lifestyle factors. Although depression can happen at any age, it often develops in adulthood.

Depression symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include:

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity or slowed movements and speech
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Conventional Treatments

Since causes of depression are different for every person, the best way to treat depression is to become as informed as possible about the treatment options, and then tailor them to meet your needs. Medications and psychotherapy are effective for most people with depression. Psychotherapy is a general term for treating depression by talking about your condition and related issues with a mental health professional. Different types of psychotherapy can be effective for depression, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or interpersonal therapy.  In some cases, a doctor (primary care doctor or psychiatrist) may think that antidepressant medication may also be necessary to relieve symptoms. Support groups for people with depression are also another way to treat depression. Effective treatment will help you learn how to control depression so it doesn’t control you.

Alternative Treatments for Depression

Home Remedies for Depression

St. John’s Wort is used in medicinal preparations to treat various disorders, including depression. Research does support the use of St. John’s Wort as a stand-alone alternative treatment for depression. A 2015 meta-analysis review concluded that it has superior efficacy to placebo in treating depression, is as effective as standard antidepressant pharmaceuticals for treating depression, and has fewer adverse effects than other antidepressants. In parts of Europe, traditionally, this herb is often the preferred remedy for treating depression.

Folate, also known as vitamin B9, is already known to be important for health. Foods such as beans, lentils, dark leafy greens, and fortified cereals containing folate, have been found to improve the effectiveness of medications used in treating depression.

SAM-e affects the manufacture of brain chemicals responsible for mood regulation. Research shows that SAM-e is as effective in relieving symptoms of depression as tricyclic antidepressants.

CBD oil

CBD oil has been found to be effective in the treatment of depression. The cannabinoids produced in our bodies (endocannabinoids) help to regulate several functions of the body such as mood, pain sensation, sleep, and appetite. These substances exert their actions by binding to specific receptors through which they potentiate the actions of the serotonin which acts to improve mood and reduce stress levels. Serotonin also acts by binding to its receptors in brain cells. When these hormones bind to their respective receptors, they trigger a series of events within each brain cell stimulating processes that improve mood and stress control. CBD oil improves depressive symptoms by modulating the actions of the endocannabinoids and also potentiating the effects of serotonin by enhancing the activity of the receptors unto which serotonin binds.


Acupuncture may help ease depression symptoms, as well as treat the underlying condition, although more research is needed to confirm. Even though some people are skeptical, there aren’t enough well-designed studies to rule out or confirm that improvements after acupuncture aren’t just a placebo effect or occur simply because are expected. In practice, the hands-on connection can make people dealing with depression, feel significantly better. Research conducted in the United Kingdom suggests that acupuncture may even help clinical treatments work better and may be as effective as counseling when used as a part of a complementary care plan.


Hypnotherapy is a method used by physical and mental health practitioners around the world to guide clients into a state of hypnosis in order to uncover and resolve psychological issues. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, hypnosis may help with issues such as depression, hot flashes, smoking cessation, and pain management. The overall goal is to create a relaxed but conscious state where individuals feel comfortable enough to discuss their circumstances without becoming overly anxious or emotional. Hypnotherapy is a technique that trained professionals may use to enhance their practice. This means that hypnosis is best used as an adjunct to other forms of psychotherapy or medical practice.


Chiropractic care is a non-invasive and natural alternative treatment that has been shown to improve depression symptoms. It is based on the diagnosis and manipulative treatment of misalignments of the joints, especially those of the spinal column, which are held to cause other disorders by affecting the nerves, muscles, and organs. Spinal health influences almost every aspect of organ health, mental health, and performance. Immobile or improperly positioned vertebra alters neural communication between the brain and the body, producing poor function and abnormal health. Some people with depression report that imbalances within their body were contributing to their symptoms.

Final Thoughts

Since no one suffers from depression in exactly the same way, or for the same reasons, the treatment of depression should take into account the whole individual to find the remedy that will decrease symptoms. If the condition is fairly mild, symptoms might be relieved with lifestyle changes, natural treatments, and home remedies. Enough people report that they have gained relief from using alternative approaches to treat depression. However, there’s no hard evidence that they’re effective for moderate to severe depression. Therefore in these situations, alternative treatments should not be a replacement for medical diagnosis and treatment. On the contrary, they must be used as a part of a complementary care plan, along with conventional treatments.

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