Depression Treatment Beyond Drugs: 10 Things It Can’t Hurt to Try

Running on bridge

Tell your doctor you’re depressed and it’s a sure bet you’ll walk out of the office with a prescription for an antidepressant.

For some, such medication works miracles, making it possible to again live life to the fullest. Others aren’t so lucky, finding the drugs do little or nothing to help their low mood. Yet others simply aren’t comfortable committing to drugs that can have side effects and whose effectiveness has come under increasing challenge — although it’s important to note that a recent study out of Sweden concluded that those challenges have likely misinterpreted data and that antidepressants are indeed superior to placebos.

No matter the inspiration, if you’re looking for alternate ways to deal with your depression, whether or not you take medication as well, the good news is that there are options. Some are simple, some more complex, but all of those listed below have been shown through research to offer benefits. And where depression is concerned, you can never have too many allies in the fight.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)


This form of psychotherapy will encourage you to take an in-depth look at your thoughts and feelings in order to identify and change the negative patterns that can contribute to mood disorders. It isn’t just talk; CBT actually changes brain activity, which suggests brain function is improving as well, the National Alliance on Mental Illness notes.

CBT is frequently used alongside antidepressants in traditional depression treatment, often with powerful results. When CBT is used solo, results have been more mixed, but some studies show strong evidence of improvement in depressive symptoms. CBT may even have a more enduring effect than antidepressants, and that can help make relapse less likely.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation


This noninvasive procedure uses electromagnets to send pulses into parts of the brain found to be underactive in some people with depression. Not only have studies found the technique delivers significant results, it appears to be most effective for those who don’t do well with traditional antidepressants.

Spirituality or Religion 

Spirituality or Religion

You don’t have to go to church, but finding a place for spirituality or religion in your life has been associated with a thickening of the brain’s cortex, and that can protect against depression, according to a 2014 study. The protective effect was greatest, the study added, for those with a family history of depression.

If you’re not comfortable with the concept of either spirituality or religion, regular meditation can reap the same rewards.



Exercise is a “magic drug” for those with depression, affecting neurotransmitter systems in the brain much as an antidepressant does. The result, confirmed by multiple studies, is better mood, along with less anxiety, anger and stress. Even 20- or 30-minute sessions can make a big impact.



If you want to maximize the benefits of your exercise, consider yoga. Research shows it may well be superior to other forms of exercise because it increases GABA levels in the brain. (Low GABA is associated with depression.)

Human Connections 


It likely comes as no surprise that social connections with other individuals are a positive for those dealing with depression, but a group identity is key as well. There’s something about coming to see other members of an organization — whether it’s your book club, your softball league, your therapy group — as “us” rather than “them” that helps boost depression recovery, the authors of a 2014 Canadian study discovered. If you don’t have a group, find one and make an effort to reach out to those within it.

Animal Connections

dog with tongue out

A 2012 analysis of almost 70 animal studies confirms it: Animals bolster our mood and improve our mental health. Depression dramatically declined in nursing homes with live-in or visiting dogs, for example.

If a real animal isn’t handy, make do with a few cat videos. They’ve been scientifically proven to boost positive emotions.



It means, quite simply, a gentle and conscious effort to bring your mind into the moment, and its benefits are substantial. Mindfulness has been shown to be just as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy in treating depression, for example, and when mindfulness was used as part of a school program, adolescents were found to be less likely to develop signs of depression, anxiety and stress.

As a bonus, mindfulness has also been found to reduce healthcare visits.



Are you hanging on to your anger and regret? An inability to forgive can boost your depression risk. A recent study of older adults — studied because they are more likely to reflect upon their lives — showed that self-forgiveness offers only slight protection against depression. What does help is being able to forgive others, even if they don’t forgive you. Interestingly, however, this result seems to apply only to women — proving that men and women process forgiveness in different ways. Men reported the highest depression levels both when they felt unforgiven by others and when they forgave others.

A Positive Focus

girl smiling

Of those with depression, up to 80% will become depressed again. Researchers trying to find out why stumbled upon what might be at least a partial answer: It’s because of what we pay attention to.

In a study that tracked the eye movement of a group of women as they looked at pictures of faces, those with a history of depression were more likely to pay attention to the angry ones. And those who paid the most attention were most likely to develop depression within the next two years. It’s a reminder that for the sake of our mental health, we need to make an effort to notice all that is beautiful in our world rather than focusing only on the bad.


  • Are Antidepressants More Effective Than Usually Assumed?
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • A Recent Study Suggests Combining Anti-Depressants and Therapy May Be a Powerful Treatment Option for Major Therapy
  • The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-analyses
  • Prevention of Relapse Following Cognitive Therapy vs. Medications in Moderate to Severe Depression
  • New Study Utilizing Low-Field Synchronized Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (sTMS) Shown to be Effective for Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder
  • Spirituality and Religion May Protect Against Major Depression By Thickening Brain Cortex
  • Mental health providers should prescribe exercise more often for depression, anxiety
  • New study finds new connection between yoga and mood
  • Social groups alleviate depression
  • Psychosocial and Psychophysiological Effects of Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin
  • Not-so-guilty pleasure: Viewing cat videos boosts energy and positive emotions, IU study finds
  • Mindfulness treatment as effective as CBT for depression and anxiety
  • Mindfulness at school reduces (likelihood of) depression-related symptoms in adolescents
  • Mindfulness-based depression therapy reduces health care visits
  • Forgiving Others Protects Women From Depression, But Not Men
  • Letting It Go: Take Responsibility, Make Amends and Forgive Yourself
  • Forgiving others protects women from depression, but not men
  • Attention to angry faces can predict future depression


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