Depression is a common but very treatable mental health condition. According to a recent National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), a major depressive episode is something that about 17 million adults experienced in the last year. If you’re experiencing depression and want help, it’s very important for you to know…it is out there for you. 

For adult and teen depression treatment, you should also know that more options than therapy and medication are available. For some people, it’s possible to figure out how to treat depression without meds. While both therapy and depression medication can be very effective, there are also many alternative treatments for depression that you might be interested in learning about.  

Read on to learn about several natural treatment for depression options that are both effective and easy for you to implement in your life.

1. Exercise

While it’s difficult to know the exact causes of depression, it is well known that exercise is a great mood boost. Better than that, it’s something you can do anywhere. One of the best parts of working out to improve symptoms of depression is that you can do whatever it is you enjoy. Walking, dancing, getting a gym membership, or going for a bike ride are all great options. Research shows that stimulating your heart rate offers both physical and mental health benefits. Shoot for at least 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise to see the best results.  

2. Light Therapy

Light therapy for depression is an exciting alternative natural treatment for depression. For people who live with seasonal affect disorder (SAD), light exposure has been shown to increase the production of serotonin. This essential chemical in your brain is associated with mood regulation. 

If you can’t get outdoors to get natural vitamin D, consider purchasing a lightbox or visor that you can use for about a half-hour a day to potentially alleviate symptoms of depression by replicating sunshine.  

3. Healthy Diet

It’s well known that diet is associated with mood. If you are what you eat, consuming large amounts of sugar, processed foods, and other unhealthy options can definitely add to your symptoms of depression. Whether you’re experiencing depression at work or home, it doesn’t take much to alter your diet to improve your mood.

  • Reduce your sugar intake: Sugar has been linked to depression in studies. Eating fewer sweets can steady your blood sugar and help improve your mood. 
  • Get enough vitamin B: Research shows a clear link between vitamin B deficiency and depression. Vitamin B is important in producing dopamine and serotonin. You can get it through natural sources like cheese, milk, and dark green leafy vegetables.
  • Increase your magnesium: Like vitamin B, magnesium is also necessary to produce serotonin. Most people don’t get enough magnesium, but it’s not difficult to find. You can get your daily dose either through supplements or foods like whole grains, legumes, and nuts.
  • Avoid or limit your intake of alcohol: Though many people use alcohol as a way to decompress or relax, it’s been proven to actually increase anxiety and depression.

4. Meditate

Meditation is an ancient art that’s been shown to have incredible benefits in multiple mental health conditions, including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and, yes, depression. 

Learning to calm your mind and focus on breathing through mindfulness meditation can have a significant impact on your mood and ability to manage your depression. Additionally, research has shown exciting promise for mindfulness-based cognitive therapy to prevent relapse of depressive episodes.  

5. Get Enough Sleep

Sleep disorders and depression have been linked in numerous studies. They’re so prevalent in fact, that sleep disorders are considered a core symptom of depression. Making an effort to create and stick to a healthy sleep schedule might improve your symptoms of depression and have a positive impact on other areas of life as well.

6. Yoga

Originated in ancient India, yoga is a recognized type of alternative medicine that utilizes mind-body practices to promote both mental and physical well-being. Though research is limited, a review of 23 studies concluded that yoga interventions are indeed effective in reducing and managing symptoms of depression. Plus, yoga is a great way to improve flexibility, strength, and stability.  

7. Take Supplements

There are many natural remedies for depression, but supplements and herbal remedies might be an easy thing for you to try. As with any new vitamin, dietary supplement, or prescription medication, be sure to talk to your doctor before taking anything new. 

Ginseng

Ginseng is an herbal remedy that has been used in Eastern Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Its traditional Chinese medicine uses are associated with improved energy, mental clarity, and reduction of stress. More research needs to be done, but some people believe that the herbal remedy of ginseng can offset the lack of energy and motivation issues that are common for people with depression.

St. John’s Wort

If you’ve been diagnosed with mild to moderate depression, St. John’s wort might help. The herb is thought to help improve feelings of sadness, excessive worry, and poor sleep. Undiagnosed depression can be hard to treat, consider learning how to get a depression diagnosis

There are a few important caveats to note, however, including an increase to photosensitivity and the potential for interaction with prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. Be sure to talk to your doctor, especially if you already take a prescription antidepressant. Also, note that St. John’s wort might not be effective in treating major forms of depression. More research is needed.  

Lavender

Lavender is associated with relaxation and the ability to relieve anxiety. A review of numerous studies suggests it likely has an impact on improved sleep and possibly reducing anxiety. More research is needed for a conclusive link between depression and lavender to be made. That said, improved sleep can be beneficial in natural depression treatment. 

Chamomile

Research has suggested that chamomile might offer depressive symptom relief. While this is an exciting first step, more research needs to be done. There are relatively few known negatives to consuming chamomile (other than possible drowsiness), so enjoy that tea all you want. 

5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)

5-HTP has been shown in some reviews to be a potentially effective therapy for depression. It’s thought to be useful in improving and increasing levels of serotonin in the brain. Note that more research is still needed, particularly in regard to serotonin syndrome, which might be associated with excess consumption of 5-HTP.

S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe)

This synthetic form of a naturally-occurring chemical in the body has been researched in trials and reviewed to determine efficacy in treating depression. While there weren’t significant differences found between SAMe and the placebo, it was determined that certain common prescription antidepressant medications have about the same effectiveness as SAMe. Additionally, it was found to offer better results than the placebo when mixed with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

8. Keep a Journal

Journaling is an effective technique that’s often used in certain types of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a popular form of therapy in treating depression. Writing down your thoughts not only helps you process and compartmentalize them in your brain, but it can also be a useful way to support therapy in between sessions and offer insight for your doctor or therapist.

9. Spend Time in Nature

Research done by the American Psychological Association (APA) continues to advance our understanding of how nature and mood are connected. Evidence continues to be found reaffirming that nature has multiple benefits on both our physical health and our psychological well-being. Not only has research shown cognitive benefits, but there are also emotional benefits associated with nature and a reduction in depression symptoms.

“Nature can provide a healing balm and is why many took to RV travel during the pandemic. Getting out in nature can help recalibrate our mind so we stay in the moment.”

Talkspace therapist Karmen Smith, LCSW, DD

10. Alternative Healing

Alternative healing methods like massage, sound baths, chanting, and more have gained popularity as ways to center the mind and body. More research will likely continue, but if you’re looking for natural ways to help depression, it might be worth considering any one of these methods to supplement your in-person or online therapy. For people dating someone with depression, these alternative healing methods are also a possible bonding or date idea. 

“I live in a part of the country where natural remedies are common — Sedona, Arizona. Here, depression may be classified as a lower frequency vibration of our body, so the objective would be to raise the vibration. Sound bowls, tuning forks, chanting, meditation, and sweat lodges are used to help people make a shift in their consciousness.” – Talkspace therapist Dr. Karmen Smith LCSW DD

Talkspace therapist Karmen Smith, LCSW, DD

When to Seek Depression Treatment

Holistic, natural remedies for depression can always be something you consider, but it’s important to keep in mind that with a lack of research for these natural remedies, evidence- based therapies and treatments might be something to consider. Depression can, and typically does worsen over time without treatment, whether that’s a medical treatment like prescription medication or natural depression treatment. 

If you are experiencing symptoms of depression that have lasted longer than two weeks, and if they’re interfering with your ability to function daily, you might need to reach out for help. 

If you’re having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, you should get help immediately. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) is always available.