Can Depression Be Cured without Medication?

standing with arms outstretched in sunset field“Can I recover from depression without antidepressants?”

This is a question that many people ask me. They search the web, talk to their doctors, and seek alternative treatments, hoping that they can recover “on their own.” The answer to this question is both simple and very complicated. It often depends on the severity and persistence of depressive symptoms. Few people, in my experience, recover spontaneously and fully from depression entirely on their own. Reaching out for help is an important part of the recovery process. But getting help can take many forms, and what works for one person may not be the answer for another.

Studies show that psychotherapy can be as effective as medication in improving depressive symptoms, and the benefits tend to persist after treatment ends. Therapy addresses the root causes of depression, such as unresolved grief, anxiety, early childhood trauma, negative thinking, poor self-image, loss of meaning, and relationship difficulties. Therapy can also help to improve coping skills and resilience. But for severe or persistent depression, both therapy and medication may be needed for a complete recovery. This article will talk about what individuals should consider when deciding whether to take antidepressants for treatment of depression or whether another approach might work as well.

1. Severe, debilitating depression warrants a consultation with a doctor.

When a person comes into my office complaining that he or she is depressed, it is important to assess the severity of the depression. Severe depression with suicidal thoughts needs to be taken much more seriously and warrants a consultation with a medical professional regarding possible medication. Severe depression is a life-threatening condition and should be treated as such.

In addition, depression with severe insomnia may require medication. Without adequate sleep, it is extremely difficult to recover from depression. There are strategies that can greatly improve sleep in some cases, but if sleep does not improve quickly, medication may be required to prevent a worsening of depressive symptoms.

2. There are effective non-drug treatment options for mild to moderate depression.

Many people with mild to moderate depression, where sleep is adequate, can recover from depression with talk therapy and adjunctive strategies such as exercise, improved nutrition, mindfulness techniques, sunlight or light therapy, support from friends, family or a support group, and lifestyle changes. All individuals with depression should rule out a medical issue which may contribute to their depressed mood. Many medical problems, including vitamin deficiencies and hormone imbalances, can contribute to depression. Getting a thorough physical exam to rule out a medical cause is important.

If there is no clear medical cause, psychotherapy which focuses on improving self-care, reengaging in pleasurable and meaningful activities, and managing negative thoughts can be helpful in many cases. Working on issues that are impacting relationships with friends, loved ones, and family can also greatly relieve depression in some individuals. And for some, exploring and resolving unresolved grief or early childhood trauma may be important. Other approaches that can contribute to recovery include bodywork, acupuncture or other alternative medical approaches, meditation, yoga, or spiritual exploration.

3. Taking medication for depression, when needed, should not be viewed as a failure.

However, it is important to recognize that depression is an issue as serious as diabetes, epilepsy, or even cancer. Because it involves mood, thoughts, and behavior, it can often be treated through those channels. But there are also genetic and environmental factors that make some individuals susceptible to depression and which may result in a more persistent condition that is more difficult to treat.

Just as other conditions sometimes require medication for their treatment, depression may also require medication to fully resolve. And it is important to recover fully rather than settle for persistent mild depression. Persistent depression can become chronic and more severe over time as the brain becomes accustomed to the depressed state. Therapy and medication combined have the highest success rate in terms of resolving depression, and when therapy alone is not sufficient, it may help to consult with a doctor or psychiatrist to discuss medication options.

It is important to remember that, when it comes to treating depression, there is no prize for recovering “better” than another person. Recovering without therapy, without medication—literally “on your own”—does not earn you any awards. The prize is being emotionally healthy. It’s important to recognize the impact that our society’s attitudes toward mental health conditions, psychotherapy, and psychotropic medications may have on your decision-making. How you recover is a personal choice, based on your own needs in consultation with trusted professionals. Your choice should be made from a place of compassion and self-love.

For help with depression, find a therapist in your area.

References:

  1. De Jonghe, F., Kool, S., Aalst, G., et al (2001). Combining psychotherapy and antidepressants in the treatment of depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, 64, 217-229.
  2. De Maat S, Dekker J, Schoevers R, De Jonghe F. Relative efficacy of psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy in the treatment of depression: a meta-analysis. Psychother Res. 2006; 16(5): 562–572.
  3. Spielmans, G. (2011, October 1). Antidepressants Versus Psychotherapy for Depression. Retrieved October 18, 2014, from http://pro.psychcentral.com/antidepressants-versus-psychotherapy-for-depression/004942.html

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Meri Levy, LMFT, therapist in Lafayette, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Leila

    November 17th, 2014 at 10:31 AM

    I too once thought that resorting to medication would mean that I had failed myself and everyone else, but really this is the only thing that has ever helped me long term. I am not sure that I will ever be cured so to speak just because this is something that has plagues me for a long time and I have come to accept as a part of who I am. But at the same time I have also had to learn that this does not have to define me either and this is what my therapy and medication both help me with, understanding that there is so much more to who I am and can be than this, and that I am strong enough to win this. I may not be cured but I sure can do lots of things to help my cause along the way.

  • Meri Levy, MA, MFTI

    Meri Levy, MA, MFTI

    November 17th, 2014 at 12:07 PM

    Leila, thank you for sharing your experience. I am so glad that you have done whatever it took to treat your depression. I think so many people feel like a failure when they’re depressed. Feeling worthless is a symptom of the disease, and can make it really hard to feel entitled to get help! But being persistent and not giving up on yourself are the way to fight back. You do deserve to feel good and get the care you need.

  • Leila

    November 17th, 2014 at 3:56 PM

    Thanks for that Meri! I will admit to this being a process for me, not something that happened overnight but it happened when I kind of let go of all of the stereotypes that I had and just focused on the things that I knew would make me feel better about myself.

  • Evelyn

    November 18th, 2014 at 3:46 AM

    My first thought when reading this is that I don’t think that depressing is something that can be truly cured, just managed, and maybe it won’t ever come back to bother you but then there are those who have bouts of depression that they tend to experience all throughout life.

    I think that the answer is going to be different for everyone, and I think that we need to learn to be okay with that. What works for me, well that’s great but it may not work for you. And the same holds true for what works for you, it may not even touch my symptoms.

    we should be supportive of one another and our own unique battles.

  • James

    November 18th, 2014 at 3:35 PM

    No matter what the issue is that is bothering you, there is rarely any illness which can be managed or even cured by just using one thing.
    Most are going to need some sort of multi pronged attack, and I think that the same thing holds true when it comes to either physical or mental illness.
    there is no easy cure, there is no one thing that is going to make some huge difference. But when taken in combination and done together you might just find that little bit of magic help that you have been looking for.
    It won’t do the job for you, but that perfect combination could help to make the healing process just a little bit easier for you.

  • Kelsey

    November 18th, 2014 at 11:42 PM

    I really believe that a depression can be healed even without medication or the use of drugs. There are certain processes you can do to help a person overcome depression. Like what have been mentioned above, those things can help in recovery. After all, the recovery still depends on the patient, it willbe his or her willingness to get over depression. There things like massage and other naturopathic healing that can help eliminate depression.

  • hudson

    November 19th, 2014 at 3:49 AM

    I am not opposed to medication for anything as long as it is administered with the best interest of the patient in mind as well as by someone who actually knows what they are doing.

  • Casey J.

    November 19th, 2014 at 11:35 AM

    In some ways I think that we are doing a real disservice by even suggesting that some people can be cured without medication. I think that someone who is depressed already feels bad enough, and if they think that there are others who are doing this recovery all on their own with very little outside help, then I think that this could make them feel even worse about their own personal situation.
    I know that there are some very strong people who can power through feeling down, but there are others for who depression really takes hold and won’t let them go without a whole lot of help and intervention. We just need to make sure that we all continue to stress that no matter which situation is yours, then both are okay and you will be okay but only with the sort of treatment that will be appropriate for YOU.

  • cecile

    November 21st, 2014 at 12:20 PM

    As a therapist myself, I found that working on toxicity and level of nutrition gives very good results. Essential oils associated with supplements, a good candida diet, some EFT sessions are all what I need to help my clients.

  • conniann

    June 19th, 2016 at 5:33 PM

    I would like to hear more information on your techniques for treating depression.

  • Isaac

    January 2nd, 2017 at 4:21 AM

    Pls I like to know more about your methods of treating depression. Thanks

  • Mike

    November 22nd, 2014 at 3:28 AM

    I’m on 30 mg of Cymbalta for depression and fibromyalgia. I have side-effects (it makes me more addictive to caffeine and causes a little insomia) and would like to decrease to 20 MG. I recently tried that and after two weeks crashed into a horrible pit of depression and pain. My doctor said going 30 to 20 wasn’t that much, but maybe I should have gone more slowly. Maybe I was actually feeling a withdrawal effect, not truly a baseline effect. Any advice on making this change from 30 to 20 mg Cymbalta? It’s hard to do as the capsules don’t come in sizes under 20.

  • Meri Levy, MFT

    January 2nd, 2017 at 1:22 PM

    Mike, you are already on a pretty low dose of Cymbalta, and it is possible that 20mg is too low to be therapeutic. Have you talked to your doctor about trying a different medication that might not have such bothersome side-effects? Also, if you are not working with a therapist that is an important part of treatment as well.

  • junebug

    November 22nd, 2014 at 2:41 PM

    Are there really a lot of therapists out there who are willing to work with patients with non medicinal alternatives? I would be very interested in some things like this over becoming overly reliant on medication.

  • Larry

    November 28th, 2014 at 9:50 PM

    When I take an anti depressant I become manic. To overcome this I take large doses of B-Complex (Rodex Forte) with 5000 IU of D³ each day. Plus support group once a week. It works, no depression, no mania.

  • Rima

    December 6th, 2014 at 5:44 AM

    Yes, it’s possible to successfully treat depression without medications, depending on a few factors. Poor quality of sleep and diet are some of the culprits. D3,B-complex vitamins are helpful. In the midwest, during winter, some people become Vit D deficient. Not all depressions are psychologically based, so I usually recommend clients to get their blood work done if, after 2-3 weeks of therapy, the depression is not lifting.

  • Julie k

    March 28th, 2015 at 12:05 PM

    I absolutely do believe that depression can be cured without the assistance of conventional medication. As a qualified laughter therapist, I have seen first hand the results of people recovering from depression simply by using regular laughter.
    This has included watching favourite comedy films or participating in laughter exercises which bring about laughter and stimulate the release of our body’s natural feelgood chemical serotonin. When serotonin is released into our bloodstream, it has exactly the same effect as an antidepressant. Not only does it work as an antidepressant, but also a natural painkiller so any aches and pains a person may have will disappear after a good belly laugh.
    Research undertaken by Dr Madan Kataria in India, has evidenced that in certain cases, laughter has even eradicated Cancer cells.
    Whilst I would never dis acknowledge or undervalue the use of conventional medication, I think it’s fair to say there is also a great profit to be made in it which is why natural forms of healing are rarely promoted.

  • Deborah

    April 10th, 2015 at 3:47 PM

    I’m finding actually getting my psychiatrist to understand I would like to be weaned off my anti depressant and try therapy with a qualified therapist who understands some people may need medication while others need retrained to know how to handle situations. I’ve tried almost every kind of anti depressant and it seems the side effects out weigh the benefits. I am excited to start a new drug free process

  • Julie

    April 10th, 2015 at 11:49 PM

    Hi Deborah
    I’m so sorry to hear about the problems you’ve been having with your GP and not being able to wean off antidepressants. This is something I come across quite a lot in my work as a stress consultant so you are not alone in this. I’m not sure why GPs like to keep people on antidepressants, Maybe it’s because they genuinely believe the person is not ready to come off or maybe it’s about money I’m not sure but it’s often a real problem for the person taking them when they feel well enough to stop.
    There are a few things that may be useful for you to think about, the first thing is realising that you do not own the depression. What I mean is, the depressive illness is only temporary it’s not yours to own and you are not depressed if that makes sense? The minute we start to own something and say ‘I am depressed’ or ‘I have the flu’ etc. then the illness becomes part of you, something you’re choosing to own so this is one way of thinking about the depression.
    If you can start to think of the depression in this way you will then start to realise that it’s only one aspect of things that affect your life.
    The other thing is that most antidepressants are not addictive, so coming off them is often not that difficult however, after saying this it’s important to check out which tablets you’re actually on because some can have difficult side-effects.
    Remember Deborah, this is your body and you can choose when or when not to do anything, you are in control of what you do with your life.

  • Lis J

    December 14th, 2015 at 3:39 AM

    Hi Julie. I have just been looking at your site as I have suffered depression on and off for many years and had a serious depressive episode approx 4 years ago due to a bullying incident at work where I thought about suicide. I was started on Seroxat and have recently (over a 3 month period) stopped taking these (with my GP’s help) but found the side effects of reduction awful. When i got down to the final low doseage, one night the symptoms were so bad (really dark thoughts) I considered starting them again! However, with my GP support and putting all I have learnt through CBT I managed to get through it and for the first time in a long time I feel really well! Therefore I challenge your view that there are limited side effects of reduction and I had been warned by my GP that Seroxat was one of the worst antidepressants to wean off so think people should be warned about some of these medications before they start! I am not saying there is not a place for antidepressants as certainly I needed them at that time but overall what helped me the most was understanding what had caused my depression via CBT I.e. low self esteem due to bullying by a drunken father, a drunken first husband and then the bullying manager who picked on my weakness and I allowed myself to believe that I was no good! I now feel better than I ever have about myself but I am sure there will be other instances through life where I will have to focus again but I will not allow anyone to make me feel so awful and worthless again! Anyway just wanted to say this so that anyone else coming off certain antidepressants and has withdrawal symptoms does not give up as you can get through it with the proper support and hard work from yourself and feel at peace with yourself again! X

  • Deborah

    June 4th, 2015 at 5:37 AM

    I’ve taken myself off all medication by myself because of lack of caring and response from my psychiatrist. His attitude became a “how dare I question him ” attitude. I’ve been seeing a therapist who is and has fern very helpful. However, I’ve noticed after not taking my medications pristiq, buproprion, and trazadone ( weaning each separately ) now for about four weeks I’m starting to feel like their is a huge ball of anger rowing inside of me. Like I am on edge and any little thing could possibly make me want to blow up (scream). I’ve gone through the the other withdraw symptoms for each medication when I stopped – but gel as if this is a new symptom. I am not a person who gets angry. What I’ve found is no one really knows the side effects from taking these drugs for an extended amount of time and the true results of stopping them. I’m wondering if any one else has the same symptoms and I wanted to tell anyone reading this to be so aware of the side effects from these drugs and the lack of knowledge the prescribers have when prescribing them.

  • Leslie

    January 19th, 2016 at 7:14 PM

    When I went on a med wash I felt more angry and irritable. I felt like the medicine helped me with this, and its absence brought it back.

  • Meri Levy, MFT

    January 2nd, 2017 at 1:29 PM

    Hi, Deborah. I have heard other people describe feelings of rage after weaning off antidepressants. Withdrawal symptoms can last for several months, so it is hard to know if you are experiencing withdrawal or a new symptom of your depression (many people experience anger as the primary symptom of depression). Some of my clients have found that taking a very low dose of Prozac (10mg) can help with the withdrawal symptoms, and after a period of time the Prozac is able to be discontinued without significant withdrawal. You can talk to your GP about whether this might be a good option for you.

  • JAMES

    October 2nd, 2015 at 8:20 PM

    DEPREESION IS REALLY CANCEROUS, CANCER OF THE MIND ..UNLESS YOU TREAT IT AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE ..U WILL LOSE YOUR LIFE ITSELF ..BEST METHOD I HAVE SEEN IS SCIENTIFIC COUNSELLLING REGULARLY WITH HYPNOTHERAPY..BUT BE WITH A PERSON WHO KNOWS THINGS SCIENTIFICALLY ..IT MAY TAKE MANY SITTINGS A SI DO…BUT PEOPLE DO GET A LOT OF RELIEF AND HEALING S U R WELCOME ..HAVE A NICE START..

  • conniann

    June 19th, 2016 at 5:38 PM

    James ! you are the first person I have ever heard say “cancer of the mind ” besides me. I always say depression is a cancer. kills your mind , kills your feeling to live

  • george

    October 7th, 2015 at 6:18 AM

    I don’t believe we have come to the root of depression. Only looking at the brain activity is highly ineffective. Someone who has suffered from depression for 20 years, i can tell you that pills won’t cure you. In many cases depression comes from the lack of feeling of purpose to life. Hence the suicides. We should focus on healing patients with feeling worth something. The problem is that as a human race we havent come to a common concensess as to what is our purpose as human beings. So we turn to religion and lose trust in our psychologists. We believe only god can help us in our journey. So i believe we will not find a cure to depression until we find the answers to such questions as to why we exist? Who created us? What is my function is society to contribute to this purpose etc etc.

  • Jill

    November 12th, 2015 at 7:35 PM

    Hi George, just reading your comment, I think you have hit the nail,on the head…it is all to do with no purpose in life and I am sure that’s why I have depression

  • conniann

    June 19th, 2016 at 5:39 PM

    I agree with you George!

  • Wally

    November 12th, 2015 at 6:29 PM

    I can only speak for myself, so please just take it for what it is. My depression began when I was about 8 years old and continued for the next 20+ years with several suicide attempts. I hated my life. About 5 years ago all of that changed when I started to seek peace of mind through spirituality and a relationship with God. Since then I consider myself cured because it’s been 5 years and I’m happy. I can only say that it was God’s intervention. perhaps He has a much different plan for me than being depressed. I’m writing this because it is possible to rid ourselves of depression. It happened to me!

  • Debbie

    June 20th, 2016 at 3:24 PM

    I wake up each morning with hope I can find happiness others so easily find. I’ve not yet found it.

  • Mark

    June 25th, 2016 at 5:37 PM

    I have had severe depression for close to 13 years,and until recently i had not asked for help, I feel worthless,a failure in life,and my job is bringing me down,I know my wife loves me butt it must be putting pressure on her as well.My doctor has prescribed Escitalopram can anyone tell me will this help me as happiness has eluded me for along time.

  • Inder

    October 16th, 2016 at 12:35 AM

    Hi,
    I m suffering from Depression for last 14 Years. I have tried many Antidepressants prescribed by Doctors. I see mild improvement but I feel that these Antidepressants are killing me day by day. I m not able to do my office work properly. I have tried stopping my Antidepressants drugs gradually with the help of Doctors but as I reduce it my brain start feeling weakness and I have to start again. I feel that I m in a prison from where it is difficult to come out. Could you please help me if possible ?

  • ALOK S.

    December 10th, 2016 at 7:13 AM

    I am suffering from Depression for last 13 Years. I have tried many Antidepressants prescribed by Doctors. I see mild improvement but I feel that these Antidepressants are killing me day by day. I m not able to do my office work properly. I have tried stopping my Antidepressants drugs gradually with the help of Doctors but as I reduce it my brain start feeling weakness and I have to start again. I feel that I m in a prison from where it is difficult to come out. Could you please help me if possible ?

  • Meri Levy, MFT

    January 2nd, 2017 at 1:32 PM

    Hi, Alok. If you are not experiencing results with the medications you’re trying, I recommend working with a psychotherapist on what issues may be contributing to your depression. It is possible a fresh start with a new psychiatrist may help as well, but therapy is an important part of recovery from depression.

  • Isaac

    January 2nd, 2017 at 4:36 AM

    I am 45 now and I have suffered depression for the better part of the last 18yrs. There is no history of this disease in the family and I just want to live life being my normal happy, optimistic self again. I need help to achieve this. Anybody out there willing to show me the way, please?

  • Meri Levy, MFT

    January 2nd, 2017 at 1:34 PM

    Hi, Isaac. What have you tried to help with the depression? A combination of therapy and medication is the best treatment for persistent depression. You may need to change providers if you do not find the ones you are working with are helping.

  • Anshuman G

    January 3rd, 2017 at 8:46 AM

    Since last 06 years I am taking Mirtazapine 15mg , & Esclitropram 20mg , Initially I get better result but last 02 years I am too much depressed even after taking the above drugs. Now I am totally confused, sad & have come to solution that depression can not be cured. Please guide that Can 13 years old depression be cured?? If yes, how long will be the treatment ??

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