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If your doctor diagnoses you as having depression, chances are you will get a prescription for antidepressant. But if you are just "down in the dumps," here are ten non-pharmaceutical interventions that can help you make it through the day.

Depression is both the most common and least treated form of mental illness in most of the world. Often presenting themselves as a combination of fatigue, headache, abdominal tension, weight gain, or "the blahs," depression symptoms occur any time of year in about 9% of both men and women.

Of the 9% of people who deal with depression, about 1/3 suffer a condition known as "major depression," requiring medical intervention. But if you are dealing with mild, transient depression, non-medical interventions may help.

How Can You Tell If You Need to See a Doctor for Depression?

Major depression is a serious illness. If you are generally feeling low, and you experience one or more of these additional symptoms, you may be experiencing major depression. A diagnosis of major depression requires anhedonia, which is diminished interest in almost all life activities, plus:

  • Significant weight change (or, in children, failure to achieve weight gains expected for their age),
  • Difficulties making decisions,
  • Sleep disturbances,
  • Indecisiveness,
  • Jumpiness, or, alternatively, sluggishness,
  • Feelings of worthlessness,
  • Recurrent thoughts of suicide, or a specific plan for suicide.

If you do not have a diagnosis of life-threatening illness, and you frequently think about death, you probably suffer major depression. If you have plans for suicide, you probably suffer major depression and you need immediate medical intervention. But if you have suffered a recent loss of a family member or a loved one, or your symptoms were triggered by a medication, then other kinds of support, such as help from friends or changes in medication, may be more appropriate.

Don't Mix and Match

If you are not suffering major depression, then many of the natural remedies for depression are just as likely to work as modern medications. The important thing to remember is not to mix and match prescription medications with natural remedies. In treating depression, it is possible to get too much of a good thing.

This is particularly true of the herbal antidepressant St. John's wort. Taking at least 900 mg of hypericin per day will lift mild to moderate depression more often than not. Combining the herb with prescription antidepressants, however, may cause a shift from depression to mania, which is at least as debilitating as a depressive illness. This detrimental combination effect is also a potential problem when combining selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and blue light therapy.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Eisendrath S, Chartier M, McLane M. Adapting Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Treatment-Resistant Depression: A Clinical Case Study. Cogn Behav Pract. 2011 Aug.18(3):362-370
  • Riley D. Hatha yoga and the treatment of illness. Altern Ther Health Med. 2004.10(2):20–21
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