Alternative Treatments for Depression

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on November 28, 2022
3 min read

Some people with depression prefer non-drug approaches to help them manage their condition and feel better. Natural treatments and home remedies may be good for milder forms of depression. But there's no hard evidence that they're effective for moderate to severe depression.

Talk to your doctor about which complementary and alternative treatments might work for you.

A health treatment that isn't considered standard Western medical practice is referred to as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). These can be anything from diet and exercise to mental conditioning and lifestyle changes, including:

St. John's wort is a common herbal supplement suggested for depression. It's been used for medical purposes in other parts of the world for thousands of years. But research findings have been mixed. It seems to work best for mild to moderate depression, not the more severe forms.

5-HTP and SAMe are other supplements that have been studied for depression.

Don't take a supplement unless you've talked to your doctor about it. They could interact with your medicines, and they can be dangerous for people with certain conditions. Your doctor can help you weigh the risks and potential benefits. That way, you can make an informed decision.

Meditation is sometimes described as an altered state of consciousness. It can help you relax, which helps with your depression.

Yoga is part meditation, with specific body poses and breathing techniques. It also helps you relax. Practices vary, and some aren't recommended for people with certain medical conditions. Some evidence suggests yoga may be good for depression, too, but the evidence isn't conclusive.

Most touch therapies are based on the idea that the mind and body are interconnected; your physical health and emotional well-being are closely linked. The belief is that when your body is relaxed, your mind can add to better health, less depression, and overall wellness.

There are also reports that mind/body exercises, used with various types of bodywork, can boost feelings of calmness.

Different forms of exercise can lower stress, relax you, and help lessen symptoms of depression.

Exercise can also improve your energy, balance, and flexibility. In general, it's a safe, effective, and easy way to better your health.

Check with your doctor before you take on something new or ramp up your activity level.

Guided imagery is a relaxation technique that some professionals who use biofeedback also practice. With guided imagery, you'll think of peaceful mental images, such as ocean waves, or perhaps images of controlling or curing your disease. People using this technique say these positive images can ease their condition.

Music can be thought of as a natural tranquilizer for the human spirit. It was used by Pythagoras, the 6th century B.C. philosopher and mathematician. During World War II, veterans' hospitals had volunteers play music for wounded soldiers. The results were so positive that the VA added music therapy programs.

Basically, all you need is a CD player or mp3 player with headphones. Then choose music -- from New Age "mood" music to rock to classical -- that matches your personal needs, moods, and tastes.

Music therapy can be a useful and effective non-drug approach for people of all ages that may help to ease uncomfortable feelings such as fear, anxiety, stress, and grief.