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Top 10 Alternatives to Antidepressants

Top 10 Alternatives to Antidepressants

Last Updated on February 11, 2021 by Carol Gillette

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Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Written by Diane Ridaeus Published Nov 6, 2018
Medically Reviewed by Dr Samuel Lee MD

Why More People are Asking for Top 10 Alternatives to Antidepressants

natural alternatives to antidepressantsWhat has caused this exploding interest in finding the top 10 alternatives to antidepressants? While antidepressant medications might help a person get through an initial crisis, a concerning number of people develop drug-dependence after a short time. Frequently the pills have become more problematic than the initial symptoms. But trying to stop taking them without guidance, or too fast, almost guarantees you’re in for a nightmarish experience.

Individuals might inadvertently stop their antidepressants — for instance running out of pills before a long weekend. Or, one might feel fine now and just quit (never recommended). But regardless of the reason, stopping too suddenly can unleash bizarre and extreme symptoms that could prevent a person from functioning at their job, or from taking part in routine daily life activities. So, many people just gave up trying.

As a consequence, long-term antidepressant use continues to surge3 in the U.S.and around the world. Many people have concluded it’s time to start looking for safer and more effective alternative treatments for depression. A slow taper is the best way to start that ball rolling, according to medical consensus. Many helpful therapies exist besides the top 10 alternatives to antidepressants we’ve listed below. But there is no suggestion to stop medication instantly … because that can be catastrophic. The transition should be slow and gentle. To do otherwise could shock the system so badly that recovery could take years.

Antidepressant Use is Widespread

Each day, thousands of Americans who are frustrated by negative side effects want to find a better way. They want to heal and just feel healthy again. But the numbers of consumers keep rising. This is why we believe we get so many inquiries about workable alternatives to medications. Antidepressants are given as a psychiatric treatment for depression, but physicians also prescribe antidepressants to treat ADHD, OCD, anxiety disorders, and numerous other mental health problems.

It is estimated that nearly 13%1 of Americans over the age of 12 have taken antidepressant medications such as:

  • Lexapro (escitalopram)
  • Celexa (citalopram)
  • Paxil (paroxetine)
  • Zoloft (sertraline)
  • Prozac (fluoxetine)

If you are wondering which antidepressant has the least side effects, please continue reading to learn more about natural treatments for depression that could help you avoid side effects entirely.

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Symptoms of depression:  Learn About Warning Signs

Antidepressant medications have been used and some would say over-used for decades. Yet, a recent report from the WHO states that depression is now the #1 disability in populations worldwide.4

Antidepressants are prescribed to minimize symptoms of clinical depression.2

We want effective strategies. No-one wants a cure that is worse than the disease. Clearly, the drug solution has not been successful. Let’s remember the sage advice from Hippocrates, “First, do no harm,” and look at some alternatives.

Clinical Depression & Depression

The mental health industry has defined depression and clinical depression separately. Depression could mean sadness after the death of a loved one, disappointment after job-loss, or other situational distress. Clinical depression, by contrast, is defined as a more severe condition with specific signs and symptoms according to the DSM.5

Symptoms of Clinical Depression

At least 5* of the following:

  • Depressed mood
  • Loss of interest in most activities
  • 5% unintentional weight gain/loss in one month
  • Insomnia
  • Observable agitation or retardation
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive guilt, feeling worthless, or similar
  • Cognitive impairment, slow thinking
  • Recurring thoughts of suicide or death

*The DSM criteria for diagnosing various conditions have changed from time to time, as noted in the latest version, DSM-5.

Natural & Holistic Top 10 Alternatives to Antidepressants

Depending on what a person is going through, it is possible to tailor alternative treatments to benefit symptoms of depression. There are even holistic wellness centers that can help a person safely taper off antidepressants using an all-natural approach. Finding out about alternatives that are easy to implement may be a good strategy to start with.

Tips for Using Alternatives to Antidepressants

Before taking any herbal alternatives or supplements, we recommend that you start making simple changes that result in a healthier lifestyle, and begin to minimize the intake of toxins and stimulants. Building that foundation will help get the full benefit of holistic or natural remedies for depression. Try putting together your individualized healthy eating plan and make it delicious! A healthy lifestyle can be wildly enjoyable!

Example:

If someone were to take an herbal supplement recommended for depression, like 5-HTP, or fish oil, and then slosh back a few energy drinks or cups of coffee, the effect of the supplements would probably be negligible. Avoiding these stimulating beverages can help maximize the benefits of your efforts.

Gut-Brain Connection to Mental Health

gut-brain connection for mental healthIt is important to understand that what we take into our body does affect our mental health. One major contributor to our moods, and health as a whole, is our gut health. Referred to as our “gut-brain axis,” the health of our gut is imperative if we desire a healthy and symptom-free life.

The gut is connected to our nervous, neuroimmune, and neuroendocrine systems, and poor gut health has been known to cause a wide variety of ailments or symptoms, even mental health problems. Those who are experiencing symptoms due to poor gut health may prefer an alternative to antidepressants to avoid having to ingest pills that include additives.

If you’re trying to make a plan to avoid antidepressant use, or come off antidepressants safely, consulting a doctor is the wisest choice. A licensed professional can assist in developing a treatment plan and running the needed tests and lab work to determine what treatment would look like as an alternative to antidepressants.

Strategies:  Top 10 Alternatives to Medications

By adapting to a healthier lifestyle and diet plan, you can hope to minimize symptoms of depression. But for many, additional therapies may be needed to help with long-term depression, PTSD, or trauma. Below are 10 strategies we regard as highly useful.

Top 10 alternatives to antidepressants:

1. Dietary Changes

organic food for mental healthEliminating unhealthy eating habits and foods high in chemicals, food colorings, or processed ingredients is high on our list of alternatives to medication. Eating a healthy organic diet can help make sure one’s body ( CNS and brain in particular ) have the nutrients they need. The gut is key for manufacturing and distributing natural brain chemicals — the feel-good kind — so eating for a healthy gut is fundamental.

Eliminating stimulants can help to even out dips and swings in mood. Eliminate sugar, refined carbs, energy drinks, MSG, toxic preservatives, and caffeine. Watch out for CNS depressants also, like alcoholic beverages.

2. Yoga

Yoga - Alternative To MedsWe love to include yoga on our top 10 list of alternatives to antidepressants. A person with a tense body will often feel uncomfortable or develop other stressy symptoms such as insomnia. Gently stretch out those knots and kinks.

Breathe! Slow down with a daily or “as needed” routine.

Yoga gives you a completely portable toolbox. You can do it in your home, you can do it in a class or group setting, you can do it at the beach.

Yoga is good at any time of the day or night and provides many benefits to mind, body, and spirit.

3. Vitamin Therapy

Nutrients — a vast subject that really needs a book or two to properly cover. Your local library or search engine can be a great source of information to learn about nutrients and their amazing functions and interactions. But in brief, adequate vitamins and minerals are crucial for maintaining balance and helping to minimize signs of depression. Working with a nutritionist, or naturopath can help you implement specific nutrient therapy, and discover supplements that could help. Lab testing for deficiencies could make a very good start, especially if you don’t know where to begin.

4. Exercise

sunshine, exercise for depression

Not only is exercise good for your body, but it also helps with balancing moods. That’s why we keep it on our list of reliable medication alternatives. Exercise is tried and true. Go at your own pace, don’t go all marathon, and give yourself a reason (ouch) to quit. Even mild physical activity boosts endorphins, which help us feel good. For someone battling depression, exercise is a great way to extrovert and shake off a bit of that grey mood. Even something as simple as going for a brief walk, daily if possible, can make a profound change in mood. Exercise is powerful medicine!

If you can, immerse yourself in the woods (called “forest-bathing” in Japan) for a few minutes or hours. Studies show many positive effects on both mood, cellular activity, energy, and other perks that can last for up to a month or longer! 6

5. Massage Therapy

Feeling physically comfortable can help when dealing with depression. Taking care of yourself and feeling good are definitely worth including in your top 10 alternatives to antidepressants because your self-care is one of the most valuable tools in the recovery process. Massage therapy is extremely good for detoxifying and alleviating stress and tenseness.

It’s hard to feel down when you feel that good!

6. Acupuncture

Used for centuries, acupuncture helps with restoring inner balance (energy) and improved blood flow.

An acupuncture specialist works to find and release areas of painful or blocked energy flows. Releasing these by using a painless method of stimulating the areas with fine medical-grade needles allows these blocked flows to release, flooding the area with endorphins.

No wonder we keep it on our top 10 list of medication alternatives!

7. Connect with and talk to trusted friends or family members

There are many people in the world who care about the well-being of others. When someone is dealing with depression, talking to someone can be of immense value. If a friend or family member is not available or just not the right choice, check if your community has services available such as a talk-line, volunteer companion service, or other types of support activities.

After all, we are social creatures, and while we can sometimes savor quiet solitude, connecting with others has an almost magical quality.

That’s why we keep “talking to a friend” on our list of 10 favorite alternatives to antidepressants.

8. Counseling and Therapy

cognitive behavioral therapy for mental healthWhen a person has suffered from depression or trauma but does not want to start taking medication, finding a licensed counselor could be a very good alternative option. Counseling can allow a person to work on emotional pain or trauma associated with their symptoms. CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy has been proven to be as effective as antidepressants for certain forms of depression, such as anxiety or PTSD.7 With the right counselor working on your goals and providing support throughout the process of recovery from depression, one can feel more supported during a difficult time.

Trying to manage your symptoms along with your other top 10 alternatives to antidepressants is easier with the right support and guidance.

9. Meditation

Meditation has been around for millennia. One pesky negative thought may cause ruminating negative thoughts to persist throughout the day. Learning techniques to quiet the mind can have a calming and uplifting effect. In a less distressed state, one may be able to more effectively notice and overcome triggers of depression. Some people feel meditation may compensate, to a degree, for a night of restless sleep that left a person fatigued.

Great reasons to keep meditation on our top 10 list of great alternatives to medication.

10. Volunteering to help others – Practice Kindness!

alternative to antidepressantsPracticing kindness is probably the best-kept secret of the known universe! Christine L. Carter writes eloquently about it in Psychology Today,8 “Like laughter, kindness is a terrific happiness habit, good for our physical and emotional well-being.”

And it costs virtually nothing but your time.

Studies show that people who help other people by volunteering and performing acts of kindness are among the happiest and healthiest people in the world! 7

Summary:  Top 10 Alternatives for Antidepressants

  • Dietary changes
  • Yoga
  • Vitamin therapy
  • Exercise, especially “forest-bathing”*
  • Massage
  • Acupuncture
  • Connect! Talking to a trusted friend or family member
  • Counseling, CBT, Life Coaching
  • Meditation
  • Volunteer to help others … practice kindness!

*Forest-bathing is a Japanese term for walking in the woods. It has many surprising and long-lasting mental health and happiness benefits! 6

Inpatient Program – Using Alternatives to Medication for Beating Depression

If you are trying to avoid antidepressants or safely come off antidepressants, it is always wise to seek a licensed professional to help you through the process. While many of these recommended activities do not require a doctor at all, when dealing with clinical depression or any mental health symptoms, seeing a doctor who can help oversee your care is a valuable tool.

sedona drug rehabDepending on a person’s symptoms, inpatient care may be needed. More severe cases of depression, PTSD, and trauma will sometimes need a more intensive one-on-one setting in order to begin healing from deep issues and symptoms.

No matter how far down a person has gone, there are treatment centers and doctors offering alternatives to antidepressants around the world. One of the more recognized programs offering alternatives to antidepressants is Alternative to Meds Center, an inpatient program in Sedona, Arizona.

Many individuals are being freed from dependence on antidepressants and other psychiatric medications every day. After speaking with your doctor, try incorporating a few items from this Top 10 Alternatives to Antidepressants list, and see if your days become brighter.


1. Sifferlin A “13% of Americans Take Antidepressants” Time.com, 2017 Aug 15

2. “Major Depression (Clinical Depression)” WebMD

3. Carey B, Gebeloff R “Many People Taking Antidepressants Discover They Cannot Quit” The New York Times, 2018 Apr 7

4. “Depression.” World Health Org. Fact Sheet [Internet] 2020 January 30 [cited 2020 Oct 28]

5. Kavan M, Barone E, et al., “Grief and Major Depression – Controversy Over Changes in DSM-V Diagnostic Criteria.” Am Fam Physician [Internet] 2014 Nov 15 [cited 2020 Oct 28]

6. Locke R, “7 Amazing Health Benefits of Walking in the Woods.” from Lifehack  [Internet] N.D.[cited 2020 Oct 28]

7. Borgonovi F, “Doing well by doing good. The relationship between formal volunteering and self-reported health and happiness.” Social Science and Medicine [Google Scholar] 2008 [cited 2020 Oct 28]

8. Carter, CL PhD “What We Get When We Give” Psychology Today, 2010 Feb 19 [cited 2020 Oct 28]



This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Samuel Lee

Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente.  He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

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