Self-Help and Alternate Therapies for Depression
A look at effectiveness of self-help measures and alternate therapies for treating depression.
There are a wide range of self-help measures and alternate therapies which can be useful for some types of depression, either alone or in conjunction with physical treatments (such as antidepressants) or psychological treatments .
However, the more biological types of depression (melancholic and psychotic depression) are very unlikely to respond to self-help and alternative therapies alone although these can be valuable adjuncts to physical treatments.
What follows is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but includes those which are more commonly found helpful. We provide brief information and links to other sources of information. Other self-help measures such as meditation, diet, exercise and relaxation are covered in Ways of Staying Well.
Bibliotherapy involves, essentially, reading books or other materials (such as those available via the Internet) on how to overcome depression and applying the practices oneself. (Recommended Australian books are 'Beating the Blues: A Self-help Approach to Overcoming Depression', by S Tanner and J Ball and 'Dealing with Depression: A common sense guide to mood disorders', by Gordon Parker.) The person works independently (or with some supervision) through the material, applying the techniques outlined in it. Bibliotherapy usually uses the cognitive behavior therapy approach.
There is some evidence that Omega-3 oils, commonly found in fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and swordfish, play a role in mental well-being, particularly in cases of bipolar disorder, but some studies also demonstrate antidepressant properties.
St John's Wort is a popular herbal remedy for depression. It is a flower with many chemical compounds, some of which are believed to help depression by preventing nerve cells in the brain from reabsorbing the chemical messenger serotonin, or by reducing levels of a protein involved in the body's immune system functioning.
Studies have shown that St John's Wort is an effective antidepressant in cases of people with mild non-melancholic depression but ineffective for people with melancholic (biological) depression.
St John's Wort can have side-effects however. There are several reports suggesting that it may have some toxic effects on reproductive functioning. There are other possible problems with St John's Wort, including possible interactions with certain medications.
Light therapy involves exposing someone to bright light for around a half an hour each day. The bright light can be either in the form of conventional fluorescent lamps or bright sunlight.
Light therapy has been shown to have particular benefit for people who suffer from a form of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), where depression occurs on a regular basis in particular seasons (especially autumn and winter) and then goes away in the alternate seasons (spring and summer). This condition is more common in the northern hemisphere, but it does exist in Australia.
Yoga is an ancient Indian exercise philosophy that provides a gentle form of exercise and stress management. It consists of postures or 'asanas' that are held for a short period of time and are often synchronized with the breathing. It is very helpful for reducing stress and anxiety which are often precursors to depression. A number of studies have shown that yoga breathing exercises are beneficial for depression.
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to produce different emotional and physiological reactions. There is some evidence that aromatherapy can be helpful in alleviating mental disorders including depression.
A Study at Yale University found that some essential oils affect the nervous system, can help relieve tensions and anxieties, and even reduce blood pressure. A number of essential oils are believed to be especially beneficial in the treatment of depression as they help to balance and relax the nervous system.
Massage therapy is believed to be helpful for people with depression, although further studies are needed to conclusively prove this. Massage produces chemical changes in the brain that result in a feeling of relaxation, calm and well-being. It also reduces levels of stress hormones - such as adrenalin, cortisol and norepinephrine - which in some people can trigger depression.
Acupuncture is an ancient form of healing developed within the traditional medicine China , Japan and other eastern countries. Acupuncture is based on the principle that stimulation of specific areas on the skin affects the functioning of certain organs of the body. Fine needles are inserted into specific points (called acupuncture points) just below the surface of the skin. It is believed that acupuncture can help to relieve depression, along with anxiety, nervous tension and stress.
A small number of studies support the view that acupuncture plays a valuable role in alleviating depression.
Other self-help measures include: meditation, relaxation, a healty diet, alcohol and drug avoidance, and exercise.
Sources: Office of Dietary Supplements - NIH, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Staff, H. (2008, December 6). Self-Help and Alternate Therapies for Depression, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, December 2 from https://www.healthyplace.com/alternative-mental-health/treatments/self-help-and-alternate-therapies-for-depression