Ask a Therapist: How Can I Overcome Depression Without Medication?

How to Overcome Depression: 5 Things You Can Do NOW to Make a Meaningful Impact

Ask a Therapist: How Can I Overcome Depression Without Medication?

In my 14 years as a practicing mental health clinician, hundreds of patients have walked through my door suffering from depression.

This is not surprising given that the National Network of Depression Centers  has found that one in five Americans will be impacted by depression during their lifetimes.

Indeed, depression is the leading cause of disability among those between ages 15-44 according to the Center for Disease Control.

While Major Depression Disorder (MDD)—often biochemically based and with genetic roots—can be extremely difficult to navigate and often requires psych meds, here is an encouraging statistic: studies show that within four to six weeks of starting treatment more than half of depression sufferers show improvement.

Try These Five Tips For Decreasing Depression

There isn’t a quick fix as in “Boom, you’re cured and will never again be beset by the blues.

”  But, there are techniques that can help lift the emotional paralysis and ruminating that often accompany depression.

Both of which make it much more difficult to focus on the behavioral changes that are necessary to prevent a relapse. Luckily, there are ways to punch holes in the curtain of unrelenting darkness.

Take A Different View

With depression often comes a psychological myopia: the sufferer robotically repeats to him or herself soul-sucking negative thoughts: “Nothing I try ever works out” “How could I have been so stupid?” “I am not worthy of being loved”.

 A patient deep in the throes of that kind of thinking can, if unchecked, spend an entire session staring at one spot—often the floor. At those moments I prod, “You are so stuck on only seeing things one way that you miss any other possible view. Literally.

If you force yourself to look up, there are a variety of objects in the room to observe and ponder—a bookcase; lamps: paintings; a window with sunlight streaming in… It’s not that my office is so fascinating, but there is so much you miss when you refuse to look.

” The patient then sheepishly lifts his or her eyes to take in the entirety of the room (“Oh, I never noticed that funny placard!”)  as I hammer home the point: “There are a plethora of ways to view anything. Instead of continually convincing yourself everything is hopeless consider all the other options. There is always a Plan B.”

Visualize A Happy Memory

When a patient continually revisits a painful memory (say, of a romantic rejection or failed business enterprise), it can tip him or her into near emotional catatonia. I say, “Wait, before you ‘go down the rabbit hole’ and all the dark feelings overwhelm you, close your eyes and go to a happy memory.

” *Paul remembered, “When I graduated from college, looked out at the audience and saw my family looking so proud, I felt amazing and powerful.” I said, “Great, go there. Let’s relive that wonderful experience.

”  As he described details from that lovely day (his mother’s periwinkle blue dress; standing on the stage holding his diploma…) his posture went from slumped over to peacock proud. He actually smiled.

I suggested, “The moment you feel yourself sliding back to an awful memory that takes you under, take a breath and instantly conjure up  graduation day. Counter the gloom with an immediate dose of positivity!”

Tell Me Something Good

A depressed person has earned a PhD in The Art and Science of Self-Hatred. When I ask, “How do you see yourself?” I get answers : “I’m boring.” “I’m a coward.”  “I’m ugly.”  “I’m not smart.”  To the speaker, these sentiments are absolute truths; his or her sense of identity, a soul-less place to live that is familiar, thus offering  a ‘comfortable discomfort’, with no exit door.

  As long as these annihilating beliefs rule your self-image, nothing good can break through. When I ask, “Tell me good qualities about yourself,” I am initially greeted by silence. Then I hear a halting, “I’m kind” or “I’m caring.”  If the patient gets stuck, I help out: “You’re a loving mother.” “You are a survivor.” “You are a nurturer” “You are super considerate.

”  “You are reliable”… As we construct a list, I ask the patient to write down the wonderful attributes and keep repeating them when the ‘toxic wheel of self-hating talk’ begins. I suggest asking friends and family members to email a list of positive qualities they value in my patient. The next step will be “to compile, print out the list and carry it in your wallet a talisman.

” For extra inoculation against the constant negativity, I suggest the patient write positive qualities on post-its and sprinkle them around the house: stick “I have gorgeous eyes” on the bathroom vanity, place “I’m reliable” on the refrigerator and so on…You are what you ‘feed’ yourself spiritually speaking.

Exchange the “everything I hate about myself” mantra to “all the qualities that make me a special, unique, lovable person.”

Make Plans

When a person is depressed the only place he or she wants to be is in bed, preferably under the covers with the shades drawn. Lifting up the phone to hear a friendly voice, much less having plans outside the bare minimum (work, school, grocery store) feels way too difficult. The Internet has made it dangerously seductive to keep to oneself.

Studies show that limiting social media to approximately 30 minutes a day decreases depression. I tell patients, “It’s a catch-22 that when you are depressed the last thing you feel doing is getting the house. But it’s essential to  make the effort to take a shower, get dressed, take a walk, go to the gym, and socialize.

” For months I would ask *Gina near the end of our Saturday afternoon session: “What are you doing after you leave here?” Gina, who lived alone invariably mumbled, “I’m going home to do laundry.” I started ordering her to have something specific planned post-session.

She began joining meet-ups (“Wow, ballroom dancing is kind of fun!”), visiting the botanical garden, baking cookies with her sister… The more she ventured outside her four walls, the more her mood lifted.

Find Something to Look Forward To

This is a technique I routinely use as an anti-blues vaccination. (I’ve shared that I suffer from High Functioning Depression.) When I’m down I search for something to put on the calendar that makes me happy and excited.

Indeed, this 2007 study showed that people get an emotional lift when they contemplate a future fun event, versus looking back on a fabulous activity from the past. Book a trip, buy concert tickets, plan a party—whatever brings a flush to your cheeks and rumble of joy to your belly.

My biggest mood-turnarounds arise when I begin a project that can potentially create some good in the world and lead to fulfilling connections.

For example, I’ve volunteered as a mentor to underserved young women who want to write, sought publishing contracts to write a book, taught workshops, submitted a video to do a TedX talk (haven’t heard back on that one yet!). The point is: stop continually telling yourself nothing good will ever again happen—you’ve been there, seen that, done that.

The Upshot: Depression is a diagnosable and treatable condition. There’s no reason to suffer in silence, or to guess whether or not what you’re feeling qualifies as depression.

Your primary care physician can help direct you to someone who specializes in mental health. In the meantime, here’s a guide to the signs and symptoms and a quick assessment quiz.

You can also download one of these mental health apps for more information.

If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, or someone you love is in danger, we strongly suggest that you reach out to to a qualified mental health professional. To aid in your search please consider our directory of emergency mental health resources.

*Names of patients are changed


Fighting Depression Without Medication

Ask a Therapist: How Can I Overcome Depression Without Medication?

Clinical depression is more than just having a bad day. Depression is a real illness that impedes a person’s daily life and normal functioning. It causes pain both for those affected and the people close to them. Depression is one condition that is often overlooked or ignored because of the stigma and connotations associated with the disorder.

Many people do not believe depression is a serious mental health problem and others think that you can simply “snap out” of it. This is not the case.

Depression is an issue that can cause many health problems and even lead to deadly consequences such as suicide if not handled properly.

Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders, affecting an estimated 17.3 million adults in the United States.

Most people who are experiencing depression will need treatment to get better. And, while many will require the help of medication in order to feel right, there are some strategies that you can implement to prevent or fight depressive symptoms without the help of, or in addition to, medication.

Fighting Depression

There are a number of symptoms associated with depression. While sadness is the most well-known symptom, it is only a small part of the disorder and some people may not feel sadness at all. If you or a loved one has experienced any of the following signs or symptoms for at least two weeks, you may be dealing with depression:

  • Persistent sadness or anxiousness
  • An “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, or worthlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of interest in activities and hobbies
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Weight changes
  • Thoughts of suicide

While these signs of depression are serious and can lead to many physical and mental health consequences, there are many ways that you can work to combat these problems. While medication is an option available, there are other ways to fight the symptoms and disorder.

Strategies to Defeat Depression

Medication is available for those who need it, and many do. But there are other things that you can do to promote healthy living without the use of, or in addition to, medication.


Physical exercise is one of the best things that you can do to improve physical and mental health. While there does need to be more research in regard to how helpful exercise is as an antidepressant, there is evidence that remaining active is a good way to decrease depressive symptoms.

Diet and Nutrition

There is a link between depression and a lack of a healthy diet. Many people who are depressed make poor food choices.

Similarly, there is research regarding the communication pathways in the brain and evidence that there is an association between nutritional intake, the central nervous system, and how they influence an individual’s psychological health status.

While there is more research to be done regarding how influential diet can be in reducing depressive symptoms, maintaining a healthy, nutrient-rich diet is one way to stay physically healthy and may prove to have positive effects on mental health, too.

Stay Engaged

Another way that you might be able to help improve depressive symptoms is by staying engaged socially. Many people who experience depression withdraw from friends and family and shut themselves out.

Maintaining these relationships and even expanding them can improve your overall mood.

Similarly, staying socially stimulated by volunteering may be one of the best ways to fight depression through social engagement, and it is mutually beneficial as well.


While there are ways to combat depressive symptoms, sometimes they don’t always work. If this is the case, do not be discouraged from using antidepressants if they are needed.

There is a stigma against depression and antidepressants, but no one should ever be afraid or embarrassed about these things. With any other illness, you would not feel strange or ashamed of using medication to treat it.

And antidepressant use, despite how stigmatized it is, is common. In fact, about one in six Americans use antidepressants.

With that said, it should be noted the medication can be dangerous if taken incorrectly. If overused or taken with other drugs, it can lead to mental and physical health consequences, including increased risk of suicide. While deaths from antidepressants are a real thing, if taken as prescribed, the medication is ly not dangerous and can alleviate the symptoms associated with depression.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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Author Bio: Matthew Boyle is the Chief Operating Officer of Landmark Recovery, a growing chain of drug and alcohol rehab centers in Oklahoma and Kentucky.

Matthew graduated from Duke University in 2011 Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree and has worked in the healthcare industry ever since, creating a holistic treatment model that supports patients in the pursuit of achieving lifelong sobriety.

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.


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