A group therapy group for depression
Depression

Is There an Alternative to Antidepressants?

Depression continues to rise each year, affecting approximately 1 in 4 Americans. As one of the most common mental health disorders worldwide, the options for treatment have come a long way. Antidepressants are the leading drug used to treat and minimize symptoms of depression. 

While antidepressants help thousands of people cope with depression and improve their life, those with co-occurring disorders like addiction can run into problems with this type of therapy. Some people seek treatments for depression with similar effects of antidepressants, without the negative side effects and risk of dependence. 

There are other reasons that people seek alternatives to antidepressants, like treatment-resistant depression. Some patients may look for something in addition to medication. Either way – if you’re seeking safe alternatives to antidepressants for depression, there are many options to choose from. 


What do Antidepressants do for Depression?

Antidepressants are one of the most common ways that clinical depression is treated and are commonly used to treat other mental health disorders like anxiety, PTSD, and OCD. Depression is characterized by decreased activity in certain areas of the brain that affect mood, hormone regulation, and dealing with stress. These areas include the hippocampus, amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex.

Antidepressant medication is used to increase activity in these previously mentioned regions of the brain. This increased activity is known to improve symptoms of depression like low mood and suppressed appetite. As good as this sounds, antidepressants can sometimes come with many side effects that are unpleasant like apathy, weight gain, and fatigue. 


Lifestyle Factors That Affect Risk of Depression

First and foremost, there are numerous lifestyle factors that can affect symptoms of depression. Leading a healthy lifestyle and taking preventative measures for your health will increase your chances of avoiding or minimizing the plague of depression. Many studies point to the fact that poor lifestyle factors have strong links to mental illness, and healthy factors provide antidepressant qualities. Below are a few ways your lifestyle can support better mental health. 

Regular Exercise

If physical inactivity leads to depression, then the opposite is true. Exercise is a natural antidepressant. Physical activity releases natural happy chemicals that support mood regulation. For best results, it’s important to get regular exercise of at least 30 minutes 3 to 5 days a week.

Consistent Sleep Schedule

Chronic sleep deprivation and poor sleep habits can lead to mental health problems like depression and makes existing problems worse. Your sleep is an imperative part of your wellness and most areas of health require quality sleep. Keeping a regular sleep schedule helps to avoid sleep problems and helps regulate your sleep cycles for optimal results. 

Balanced Diet

Food is another pillar of wellness that contributes to your mental health. Sugar and processed foods increase inflammation in the body and worsen symptoms of depression. Lacking a diet in essential nutrients also contributes to poor mental health. Ensuring that your diet is rich with omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, vitamin D, and other important nutrients will help increase your chances of avoiding depression. 

Exposure to Sunlight 

Lack of vitamin D not only affects your physical health but your mental health too. Sunlight helps naturally produce vitamin D and increases the release of serotonin, known for regulating mood and increasing focus.

Mindfulness and Relaxation

Depressive thoughts and rumination contribute to the negative feelings that come with depression. Mindfulness is a safe and healthy alternative to antidepressants. Practicing mindfulness can be used to reduce brain fog, anxiety, and symptoms of depression. You can use techniques like breathwork, meditation, and body-scanning to increase mindfulness. 

Limit Daily Screen Time

While technology is fairly new, there are definite links to screen time and depression. Those who spend more time on screens are more likely to be depressed. Excessive screen time also leads to other problems that contribute to depression, like sleep dysregulation and brain fog. Regulating your screen time can help stave off symptoms of depression. 


Complementary and Alternative Options to Antidepressants

If you’ve had a negative experience with antidepressants or simply desire an alternative, there are a number of safe and effective treatment options to choose from. The options presented below can be taken ahead of choosing antidepressant medication as well. Some patients with more severe depression may need more than one treatment. These therapies and treatments are sometimes combined with antidepressants to maximize treatment. 

TMS Therapy

If you have treatment resistant depression, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) could be an effective option for you. TMS is a drug free and safe alternative to antidepressants that is considered effective with minimal side effects. TMS therapy provides relief from severe symptoms of depression using short pulses of magnetic energy to stimulate nerve cells in the brain. 

This noninvasive procedure requires a round of 30-36 treatment sessions but the treatment has a high success rate for depression. TMS involves magnetic pulses that stimulate nerve cells in areas of the brain that affects depression. We partner with Gemini TMS to provide you with the most effective treatment for your needs using an individualized treatment plan. Many patients say they feel like a different person after finishing TMS therapy.

Stellate Ganglion Block Injections

SGB injections can be a great option if you have depression along with anxiety and PTSD. SGB injections are the use of local anesthesia to disrupt the nerves that are hyperactive during a major depressive episode. These hyperactive nerves keep the body in a perpetual state of stress. 

Blocking the nerve signals responsible for depression allows the brain to reset. Many people report feeling an immediate sense of calm after an SGB injection. The good news is that SGB is low risk aside from initial bruising and discomfort. The better news is that SGB injections have lasting effects and patients often feel relief for a few months and even up to a few years. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

With the help of a therapist, cognitive behavior therapy is a highly successful talk therapy that aims to change the way you think. Often combined with medication, CBT is used to identify unhelpful thought processes and challenge them.

CBT may require “homework” that is to be completed outside of sessions. While this requires a lot of effort, it is considered very effective if you are willing to put in the work. CBT is popular amongst therapists and known for treating various mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

IV Ketamine

Ketamine is becoming a revolutionary treatment for mental health conditions like depression. Intravenous Ketamine infusions consist of administering ketamine through an IV. Ketamine is an anesthetic that activates the neurotransmitter in the brain that is responsible for mood regulation. Ketamine works to repair synapses and effectively rewires the brain. 

Popularly used to treat conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, and PTSD, ketamine is a great option in alternative to antidepressants. . 

Lithium

Often taken in tandem with antidepressants, lithium has long been used to help with symptoms of depression. Lithium is a naturally occurring organic element that acts as a mood stabilizer by increasing certain chemicals in the brain. Lithium also helps reduce the frequency and severity of depressive episodes and reduces risk of suicide.

Neurofeedback 

Also known as EEG biofeedback, neurofeedback is a medication-free approach to treating mental health conditions. Neurofeedback works by using sensors to record brainwave activity. A program then analyzes your brain activity and provides positive reinforcement when the brain meets certain goals. 

Through the use of positive reinforcement, this process teaches the brain to form healthier habits and more balanced thoughts. You can think of this training like exercise for the brain. Neurofeedback may be an option for treatment resistant depression, and the risk factors are significantly low, making it a safe alternative to antidepressants. 

Acupuncture

A thousand-year-old practice, acupuncture is a holistic procedure that uses needles that are placed into specific parts of the skin to release chemicals and neurotransmitters. These chemicals and neurotransmitters are known to help with levels of stress and anxiety by helping with mood regulation and boosting feelings of wellbeing. 


Looking for options?

Gemini Health offers therapy services for depression and anxiety and can provide you with the alternatives you’re looking for. Our dedicated team of mental health professionals offering individual and group therapy and TMS therapy. Avoid the negative side effects of antidepressants by reaching out to Gemini Health today. Reach out to us at (301) 363-1063 and speak with our amazing staff about scheduling an appointment!

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A man with depression wearing a blue shirt with his hands on his face
Depression

Types of Depression

Depression is extremely common, with it being a leading cause of disability across the world and an estimated 5% of adults suffering from it globally. Depression is actually classified into several different types, with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (currently known as the DSM-5) being the standard that is used to classify mental disorders, such as depression. The DSM-5 breaks down the definition of depression and the different types to better help mental health professionals to be able to diagnose patients, treat those patients appropriately, and conduct further research. 

 

What is Major Depression? 

Major depressive disorder is known as a serious mood disorder that causes continuous bouts of sadness that can be extremely debilitating. Major depression is characterized by a loss of interest in regular activities and a variety of physical and behavioral symptoms. Also known as clinical depression, symptoms must be present for at least two consecutive weeks and there must be a noticeable change in the person’s level of functioning in their daily life. Common symptoms include changes in sleep (either sleeping too much or sleeping too little), changes in appetite, lower energy levels, trouble focusing, accompanying irritability and/or anxiety. It is also thought that women are affected more by depression than men, although this could be because men underreport and do not seek help due to social stigmas. 

Depression is not merely the occasional feeling of sadness, which everyone experiences at times, and often requires treatment in order to overcome. Depression treatment can be long-term depending on the severity of symptoms and first-line treatment typically involves psychotherapy, consisting of talk therapy, and antidepressants. 

What are the Other Types of Depression? 

Different depression types are classified and diagnosed depending on the specific set of symptoms that people experience, as there is some overlap of symptoms but also key differences, and the way people are affected by their depression. These are the forms of depression that are currently listed in the DSM-5: 
 

  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Also called seasonal depression, it predominantly affects people in the colder months of fall and winter. This is when the Earth is furthest away from the Sun and people are exposed to very little sunlight on a daily basis. SAD is associated with disruptions in the circadian rhythm and imbalances in the chemicals in the brain, leading to depression. Symptoms also generally start at the end of fall or the beginning of winter when the days start to become shorter. Common symptoms include having low energy, feeling listless, sleeping too much, overeating (craving carbohydrates) and weight gain, feeling worthless, and feeling listless. For it to be diagnosed, major depressive symptoms must be present for a specific season at least two years in a row, although not everyone will experience symptoms every year. 

 

  • Peripartum Depression: Also known as postpartum depression, it is a type of depression that starts during pregnancy (peripartum) or within four weeks after a person has given birth (postpartum). This is more than just the “baby blues,” as it is an actual form of mild depression that can be diagnosed, however it generally goes away on its own around one to two weeks after it starts. Postpartum depression is most often characterized by feelings of extreme sadness, fatigue, withdrawal from family and friends, loss of interest in things that were once enjoyable, loss of interest in the baby, or even thoughts of harming the baby. People are also highly likely to experience anxiety along with the depression symptoms. Postpartum depression is a serious mental health disorder and should be treated as such and anyone experiencing severe symptoms needs to seek medical attention for the appropriate treatment.  

 

  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD): Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is often thought to be PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, but they are two separate disorders. It is classified differently from PMS because it is a much more severe disorder and can be very debilitating. PMDD symptoms will begin one to two weeks before a person’s period starts and will end two to three days after their period starts. Symptoms of PMDD are mood swings, depressed mood, irritability, decreased interest in daily activities, sense of being out of control, problems with being able to sleep, lack of energy, changes in appetite, weight gain, bloating, and breast tenderness. The underlying cause of PMDD is not currently known, although it is thought that hormonal changes play a part.  

 

  • Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia): Previously referred to as dysthymic disorder, persistent depressive disorder is a chronic form of depression that is less severe than major depression. One of the key differences between persistent depressive disorder and major depression is the length of time people usually experience it. Those with persistent depressive disorder will have symptoms of depression for more days than not for at least two years, which is significantly longer than major depression. The symptoms also can’t be absent for more than two consecutive months for it to be considered persistent depressive disorder. Symptoms include depressed mood, poor appetite or overeating, insomnia, fatigue, low energy, and a general feeling of being “down in the dumps.” Persistent depressive disorder can greatly affect a person’s daily life, such as at school, work, or with relationships.  
     
  • Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD): This is a childhood condition that usually occurs between the ages of six and eighteen. Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder will appear in children as irritability, anger, and frequent temper outbursts that are significantly worse than normal child moodiness. For there to be a diagnosis of DMDD, these extreme temper outbursts must present themselves at least three times a week and symptoms must occur for at least one year, with the onset of symptoms before the age of ten. The temper tantrums will also interfere with a child's ability to function at home, in school, and interact with other children or adults.  
     
  • Bipolar Disorders: Bipolar disorders (there are three types) cause extreme mood swings and when people are experiencing low mood as part of the cycle of bipolar disorder it actually meets the criteria of major depression, which is also referred to as bipolar depression. When someone with bipolar disorder, usually either bipolar disorder I or bipolar disorder II, experiences the depression side they will display classic symptoms of depression such as feeling sad, having low energy levels, changes in sleep (either sleeping too much or too little), changes in appetite (either eating too much or too little), having difficulty with concentration, and a loss of interest in activities. Symptoms usually last about 2 weeks and episodes of depression can happen rarely or several times a year. 

How Depression is Treated 

Depression is most commonly treated with either psychotherapy or medication, known as antidepressants. The most effective treatment utilizes both. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the types of psychotherapy that is widely used to treat depression, along with others like dialectical behavior therapy and psychodynamic therapy. CBT is a form of talk therapy that helps people identify negative thought patterns and behaviors and change those patterns/behaviors.  


Antidepressants are also prescribed as a means to change a person’s mood by altering the chemicals in the brain, called neurotransmitters (ex. Serotonin and Dopamine). Some of the common categories of antidepressants are SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), SNRIs (Serotonin Noradrenaline Reuptake Inhibitors), TCAs (Tricyclic antidepressants), MAOIs (Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors), and NASSAs (Noradrenaline and Specific Serotonergic Antidepressants). They generally will start working within 2-4 weeks but may take a few months to show whether they are actually effective or not. 

 

Those with treatment resistant depression may need to seek services, such as transcranial magnetic therapy (TMS) in order to finally overcome their depression. TMS therapy is a non-invasive procedure that is usually referred to when traditional methods have failed. 

Want to See a Therapist? 

If you are interested in seeking help for a mental health disorder or any mental health issues you may be experiencing then reach out to Gemini Health for the appropriate treatment. Our healthcare professionals are highly skilled and experienced to provide you with quality health services. They offer both individual and group therapy, as well as access to psychiatrists for all patients. Plus there are no wait times to join groups. Call (301) 363-1063 and speak to our staff to schedule your appointment today!  

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