Depression manifests in so many different ways for different patients that alternative remedies may provide genuine results for some patients. Antidepressant medications and talk therapy are the most commonly prescribed treatment methods for major depressive disorder. They have “cornered the market” to such an extent that it would be easy to assume that they are the only viable treatment options out there. While these two treatment approaches, independently or together, are very effective for many people, they are not ideal for everyone. Finding an effective medication can be a relatively long process of trial and error. Some people never find a medication that seems to work for them, others experience negative side effects, while some people simply prefer not to take prescription drugs. Therapy can also be a hit-or-miss option. For many people, therapy not only helps to alleviate their current depression, but also gives them tools to help prevent or overcome future bouts of depression. But, like medication, it doesn’t work for everyone. And some people find either the cost or the time commitment to be major challenges. Both the process of finding a compatible therapist and the time involved in the therapy sessions themselves can be significant. However, there are other, lesser-known, alternatives for treating depression that have been found to be effective for some people. While they are unlikely to replace medication and therapy as the primary treatment options for this illness, they are worth exploring for people who are struggling to find the right treatment.
There is now evidence that exercise may help to alleviate depression in two ways—by increasing levels of hormones like dopamine that contribute to feelings of happiness, and by helping to eliminate a substance called kynurenine that has been associated with mental illness. The fact that exercise boosts dopamine and serotonin has been known for some time, but the link between exercise and lower levels of kynurenine was established very recently in a 2014 study.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
Another study published in 2014 found that a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) produced positive results in many patients with depression. TMS uses magnetic pulses to stimulate underactive areas of the brain involved in moderating moods. Effectiveness, combined with very few side effects (headaches are the most common), means that TMS could become a first-choice treatment for depression in the near future. Currently, TMS is typically prescribed after a patient has tried antidepressants and failed to respond to them.
Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness is the ability to be intensely aware of thoughts, emotions, surroundings and bodily sensations in the present moment. It is often achieved through meditation, and some studies have suggested that mindfulness can help to ease depression and prevent future bouts of depression. Exactly how mindfulness influences the brain is not well understood, but there is evidence that this practice can reduce stress, improve memory and attention and even boost the immune system.
Supplements and Alternative Remedies
Various other natural alternative remedies are also frequently used to treat or help treat depression. These include alternative medicine practices like acupuncture and yoga, herbal supplements like St. John’s wort and kava, and other kinds of supplements like omega-3 fatty acids and SAMe (a synthetic form of a chemical that occurs naturally in the body). Many of these options have devoted followings and significant anecdotal support. However, the actual scientific research supporting these options as depression remedies is generally slim or nonexistent. There are significant doubts, for example, that positive results seen from acupuncture are anything other than placebo results.