The drug-free way to avoid and manage depression

Large question marks continue to hang over antidepressants as a way to manage depression.

A major analysis of previous studies shows that the effect of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s) is no more than a placebo (a non-active sugar tablet) for those with mild and moderate depression. It is only in severe depression where the drug does more than act as a placebo.

This backs up a previous large analysis in 2008, which showed the same result. These analyses looked at both published studies and unpublished data submitted to the FDA. There have also at times been allegations that studies that showed little benefit from the medications were not published or even suppressed.

What is interesting is that, of course most people who take antidepressants feel better, but in mild and moderate depression, it is taking the tablet rather than the tablet itself that has the effect.

The rates of depression diagnoses have increased considerably over the past two decades. Between 1995 and 2005 the number of Americans prescribed an antidepressant doubled and those being treated took more tablets.

Some say this comes from better recognition of the problem; others feel it reflects a medicalizing of normal human emotion.

Ultimately, there is no data at all to show that the population is better off for taking all these pills. Around US$1 billion is spent on promoting SSRI’s each year, with the proportion devoted to direct consumer advertising quadrupling between 1999 and 2005.

The de-stigmatization of mental health is a good thing. Mental health issues are no less real than any other.

It has, however, also led people to feel that having a bad hair day is somehow the same as having depression. The number of people who feel that because they are facing challenges in their life, they have got “a bit of depression”, is quite amazing. It is essentially the reclassification of emotional distress as an illness.

Simple steps to manage depression and improve mood

  • Exercise. Regular exercise can reduce depression by around one third. Even regular housework (20 minutes per week) has reduced depression by 20%.
  • Eat real food. People who eat lots of processed food are more likely to have depression, whereas those who eat “whole” foods (fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, etc) have lower rates.
  • Get enough vitamin D. This can be from a bit of sunshine, eating oily fish (e.g. salmon or tuna) or taking supplements.
  • Drink green tea.
  • Manage your stress. For example, take a walk in the park or listen to music. Meditation or yoga are also good.
  • Take St John’s Wort. For those seeking a natural option instead of tablets, the herb St John’s Wort has been consistently shown to be as effective as drugs and has minimal, if any, side effects.

Life brings ups and downs, but you don’t have to pop pills

When “bad” things happen it is as normal to feel down as it is to feel happy when “good” things happen. To feel down after a relationship breakdown or job loss is no more abnormal than to feel happy after winning the lottery. There is a range of human emotion and feeling – all of which are valid.

Life has its ups and downs. Often when you are feeling down there is some lesson in life to learn. It is from the hardest times that comes the greatest growth.

Some people may need to take antidepressants for severe depression. For others, the answer will lie in resolving the issue(s) that trouble you, rather than in a pill.

Last reviewed 04/Sep/2017

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Author, speaker, doctor and health industry consultant, Dr Joe Kosterich wants you to be healthy, look and feel great to get the most out of life. Connect with Dr Joe at or follow his blog at .

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