Depression remains a complex challenge affecting millions of people worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, about 3.8% of the population is diagnosed with depression. While traditional treatments like medication and psychotherapy have been the mainstay for decades, there’s a growing interest in alternative approaches that offer new avenues of hope and relief for people experiencing depression.
Not only is there a growing interest in these alternative approaches, but there’s also a growing body of evidence that highlights the effectiveness of these therapies. By delving deeper into both conventional and alternative depression treatments, we can work to shed light on emerging therapies, make greater impacts on the mental health field at large, and help find innovative solutions to an all-too-common disease.
Traditional Depression Treatments
Before learning about alternative approaches, it’s important to understand the conventional methods widely used in managing depression.
Medications for the treatment of depression were first developed in the 1950s, and they’ve come a long way since that time. Antidepressant medications aim to regulate neurotransmitters in the brain to alleviate depressive symptoms. There are many different types of antidepressants, including:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Serotonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
- Atypical antidepressants
- Serotonin modulators
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
- N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA)
Antidepressant medications are prescribed and monitored by a licensed physician. Which type of medication prescribed varies vastly depending on the genetics and mental health needs of the individual. While medication may alleviate some symptoms of depression, it does not address the root cause of the disease. Therefore, it’s often not enough to fully cure or manage a person’s depression.
While some people speculate psychotherapy first began as a practice in ancient Greece, it was first established as we know it now in the late 18th century. While there are many different types of psychotherapy practiced today, some of the most common and popular forms include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): uses talk therapy to explore connections between a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT): primarily used to treat people with multiple mental health diagnoses
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR): used to reduce emotional distress as a result of traumatic experiences
- Exposure therapy: a type of cognitive therapy for people with specific diagnoses, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and various phobias
- Interpersonal therapy: a kind of talk therapy that focuses on relationships with others
- Mentalization-based therapy (MBT): focuses on a specific skill called mentalizing, which relates to a person’s sense of self
- Psychodynamic psychotherapy: identifying negative patterns of behavior that stem from past experiences, while working to overcome them
Therapy can be a wonderful platform to explore the self and address the root causes of depression. However, for many people, therapy isn’t always enough to address their ongoing mental health needs.
Alternative Depression Treatments
Thankfully, breakthrough treatments in the field of mental health have come a long way over the years. Alternative treatment for depression gives patients new avenues to explore, with more resources than ever before to walk through life in ways that feel manageable and empowering.
Ketamine, once primarily known as an anesthetic, has gained recognition for its transformative effects on traditional treatment-resistant depression. Ketamine-assisted therapy involves controlled administration of low-dose ketamine in company with a licensed mental health professional. Ketamine-assisted therapy is known to result in rapid alleviation of depressive symptoms.
Within the brain, ketamine triggers a cascade of neurobiological effects often causing:
- Positive changes in neurochemistry
- Increased neuroplasticity
- Enhanced mood regulation
The results of this treatment often manifest within hours to days, whereas conventional antidepressants may take weeks. Patients undergoing ketamine treatment may initially experience dissociative symptoms, altered perception of time and space, and vivid imagery.
Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
Deep TMS is a non-invasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain’s prefrontal cortex. This region is often implicated in depression, and Deep TMS aims to modulate its activity, offering relief to individuals who haven’t responded to traditional treatment methods.
Research indicates that Deep TMS may induce changes in neural circuits associated with mood regulation, leading to sustained improvements in depressive symptoms. Additionally, the treatment is generally well-tolerated with minimal side effects.
Neurofeedback, also known as EEG biofeedback, involves real-time monitoring of brain activity through electrodes placed on the scalp. Individuals are trained to regulate their brainwaves with the goal of increasing patterns associated with improved mood and emotional regulation.
Research suggests that neurofeedback may be effective in improving depressive symptoms in patients who are not responding to traditional methods of treatment. Additionally, neurofeedback allows individuals a way without medication to self-regulate their emotional well-being and improve their quality of life.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized room or chamber. While traditionally used for various other medical conditions, studies have explored its potential in alleviating symptoms of depression.
One study explored the impact of hyperbaric oxygen therapy on psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety, along with nerve function following an incomplete spinal cord injury (ISCI). The findings indicated that HBOT was as successful in addressing depression as traditional psychotherapy.
Additionally, research has indicated that increased oxygen levels may have neuroprotective effects on brain function, which has the potential to contribute to overall improved mood.
Stellate Ganglion Blocks
Stellate Ganglion Blocks (SGB) involve injecting a local anesthetic into the stellate ganglion, a cluster of nerves in the back of the neck. Originally used for pain management, SBG has shown promise in treating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which often coexists with depression.
Studies suggest that SGBs may influence the sympathetic nervous system, meaning they can also alleviate symptoms related to trauma and potentially impact depressive symptoms.
Other Alternative Treatments
As professionals continue to navigate the complex landscape of depression treatments, it becomes evident that alternative approaches are a necessary component to healing. From the rapid relief observed in ketamine-assisted therapy to the non-invasive brain stimulation of deep TMS, alternative therapies are providing real hope and possibility for people living with depression.
By consulting with a mental health provider, patients experiencing depression can better determine which therapies may be most appropriate for them. By integrating both traditional and alternative treatments, patients can move towards a more personalized and holistic approach to their mental health care, offering a brighter future for those grappling with the burdens of depression.
Integrative Treatment Options at APN
Breakthroughs in alternative depression treatment methods are beginning to revolutionize the field of mental health. It’s important to note the importance of integrating different therapy methods to better meet individual needs and improve the likelihood of success. For people experiencing severe and persistent mental health diagnoses, incorporating alternative therapies can be the game changer they’ve been waiting for.
Here at All Points North, we offer integrated treatment options that combine medication management with innovative treatments, like ketamine-assisted therapy, deep TMS, neurofeedback, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and Stellate Ganglion Blocks. We believe in treating the whole person and are passionate about helping those who haven’t seen success from traditional therapies alone.
Additionally, we offer residential treatment programs for people experiencing depression and a variety of other mental health conditions. In these programs, we explore even more alternative therapies, such as equine-assisted therapy, yoga, meditation and mindfulness.
Each year, we serve thousands of individuals who are looking to heal from their mental health challenges. Our integrated treatment approach yields better recovery outcomes by addressing the root causes of mental illness, which provides long-term progress and immediate relief for participants. Alternative treatments like deep TMS and ketamine-assisted therapy can and do work, even for diagnoses as challenging as treatment-resistant depression.