Common Alternative Treatments for Depression

Common Alternative Treatments for Depression

Living with clinically diagnosed depression can be remarkably tough. And unfortunately, many antidepressant medications — which are considered a first-line course of treatment for depressive disorders — carry deleterious side effects that make them difficult to take or aren’t effective.

If you or someone you love lives with major depression, and medications have provided little to no relief, you should know you’re not alone. According to researchers, up to 30% of people who take antidepressants get little or no symptom relief even after trying several different medications. And while talk therapy is another conventional option, researchers have found it often has a success rate comparable to that of medications.

Fortunately, there are several alternative treatments for depression that don’t involve medications or psychotherapy. These treatments can be done on a standalone basis or can be combined with pharmaceutical and/or behavioral therapy interventions.

Continue reading to learn about some of the most common alternative treatments for depression.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Therapy

TMS therapy is a non-invasive, alternative treatment for depression that works by stimulating the brain to produce more mood-regulating chemicals, including serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. People who live with depression are thought to have inadequate levels of these brain chemicals, which is what triggers symptoms.

While medications work by inhibiting the brain’s reuptake of mood-regulating chemicals, TMS works by generating magnetic fields that travel into the brain and generate slight electrical currents. Those currents are intended to excite the nerve cells in the treatment area (the prefrontal cortex), which should encourage them to boost their release of mood-regulating neurotransmitters.

For many people who’ve tried medications and talk therapy with little to no results, TMS provides much-need symptom relief. According to Harvard researchers, up to 60% of people who engage in TMS therapy experience clinically meaningful symptom improvement. About 30% of those people experience full symptom remission.

Regular Exercise

At first thought, engaging in physical activity might not seem like an effective alternative treatment for depression since simply getting out of bed on some days can be tough enough. But practicing vigorous or even mild exercise is indeed an excellent way to manage depression symptoms, and there’s plenty of research to prove it. For example:

  • A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that men and women with depression who exercised for 20–40 minutes, three times per week for six weeks, experienced a statistically significant improvement in their symptoms.
  • A review published in Frontiers in Psychiatry looked at multiple studies that tested the efficacy of exercise in treating depression. It surmised that all forms of exercise performed over an extended period — even those that only involve gentle physical activity such as Qigong or yoga — elicit improvements in both depression and anxiety symptoms.
  • A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that “aerobic exercise at a dose consistent with public health recommendations is an effective treatment for major depressive disorder of mild to moderate severity.”

If you’d like to learn more about the evidence, check out for an extensive list of studies on the efficacy of exercise in the treatment of depression.

Meditation and Mindfulness

Meditation allows the mind and body to rest, which can help depression. Those who practice it work to achieve a slightly altered state of consciousness — one that allows them to stay fully in the present moment without getting caught up in emotions or judging things.

Both during and after relaxing into this state, many people experience a marked improvement in their symptoms. According to Harvard, the practice works by helping people better manage anxiety and stress that can trigger depression symptoms.

Guided Imagery

This alternative therapeutic approach coaches people in creating what’s essentially a peaceful mental escape. Similar to meditation, guided imagery teaches people to relax their minds and bodies. But rather than clearing the mind as one would when practicing meditation, guided imagery involves concentrating on an experience, object, image, sound, or scenario that brings peace and calms the mind.

Research published in the Archives of Psychiatric Nursing found that guided imagery can help people manage depression by allowing them to generate powerful, warm thoughts that encourage a more positive psychological and behavioral response.


This Eastern treatment modality involves sticking tiny, fine needles into specific acupressure points on the body, which is meant to correct imbalances that are thought to cause depression. Placing these needles at specific points may also stimulate the body to release certain chemicals that can help mitigate emotional responses.

A 2019 review published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine concluded that acupuncture can be an effective treatment for depression, provided patients receive treatment at an appropriate frequency.

If you or someone you love is struggling with major depression, our team at Prime Behavioral Health in Southlake, TX, may be able to help. We specialize in TMS therapy and provide highly individualized and attentive treatment for each patient we see. To learn more about us and the treatment services we provide, feel free to call our office today at 817-778-8884 or contact us online.

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