How To Deal With Depression: 11 Holistic & Clinical Approaches

Understanding how to deal with depression can help anyone who is affected by different kinds of clinical depression. Clinical approaches may include pharmaceuticals or behavioral therapy, while holistic methods may involve yoga, breathwork, and meditation.

Clinical & Holistic Approaches To Overcoming Addiction

There are many different holistic and clinical approaches that are often used to treat different forms of depression. Both holistic and clinical treatments can be effective if properly applied. 

Depression is a serious mental health disorder that requires professional treatment, and treatment options vary depending on the severity of the condition, among other factors. 

Below, we’ll discuss some of the top benefits of a range of clinical and holistic approaches for depression recovery.

Clinical And Evidence-Based Depression Treatments

If you’ve spoken with your general practitioner (GP) about treatment options and feel ready to begin a clinical approach for depression treatment, there are several effective options.

The clinical and evidence-based (that is, backed by research) treatments for depression may include a range of therapies, medications, and rehabilitation options.

Keep reading to learn about some of your options for depression treatment.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy is a highly effective and often preferred method of treating depression due to the efficacy of care and proven results.

There are two primary therapies for treating depression: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).

Cognitive behavioral therapy is centered on recognizing unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors that may contribute to depression.

Typically practiced in one-on-one therapy sessions, CBT combines methods such as journaling, talk therapy, and other methods of identifying self-deprecating thoughts and behaviors.

Once you’ve identified some of these unhelpful patterns, you can begin to recognize distorted thoughts before they fester and make depressive symptoms worse.

Dialectical behavior therapy is based on CBT and helps clients not only recognize their thoughts and emotions, but actually accept the current state of their emotions and learn better ways to cope.

Whereas CBT may be effective in a wider range of people, DBT is specifically designed to help people who experience emotional responses on an intensified level.

This is why DBT is often used to treat people with major depression, suicidal thoughts, borderline personality disorder, and other serious mental health conditions.

Counseling

Another option for depression recovery is one-on-one counseling or therapy. You can also pursue counseling in a group format, which can help to build camaraderie and support among people in similar situations.

Studies have shown that there are comparable results when looking at the efficacy of behavioral therapy and individual counseling for depression treatment.

In a recent study of therapy efficacy conducted in the UK, CBT was only found to be significantly more effective than counseling in patients who had 18 or 20 sessions.

In the short term, counseling was found to be significantly more effective than CBT at two sessions.

So, whether you choose to go with a standard counseling program or a more specialized approach like CBT or DBT, it’s most important to find the right fit for your recovery needs.

Pharmaceutical Treatment

Researchers have found that therapies (such as those mentioned above) have shown efficacy equal to that of antidepressant medications when treating depression.

Many people exploring pharmaceutical treatment for depression may seek help from a primary care physician to treat the somatic symptoms, such as lethargy, insomnia, or loss of appetite.

Medications typically used to treat depression include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): Fluoxetine, Paroxetine, Fluvoxamine, Citalopram, and Escitalopram
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs): Amitriptyline, Amoxapine, Desipramine, Doxepin, and Imipramine
  • Mixed norepinephrine/serotonin reuptake inhibitors: Bupropion, Trazodone, and Nefazodone

It’s important to look at the whole picture when deciding whether medicating the symptoms of depression is the right treatment option.

Factors such as the length of depression, severity of depressive symptoms, family history of depression or other mood disorders, and whether or not a patient is having suicidal thoughts may all play key roles when determining if pharmaceuticals are the right fit.

Inpatient Treatment

People in serious major depressive episodes or those experiencing suicidal thoughts may benefit from inpatient treatment for depression.

In an inpatient treatment facility, a person getting help for their depression will stay overnight at the facility for about 28 to 60 days or longer, depending on the severity of the diagnosis.

During treatment, clients will receive one-on-one therapy, attend group support meetings, and build connections with other people in recovery.

If you’re not sure whether inpatient treatment is right for you, consider the following questions:

  • Does the depression significantly impact your everyday life?
  • Are you having suicidal thoughts?
  • Have you tried other approaches that were not effective for you?
  • Do you have a supportive community at home?

Pet-Assisted Therapy

If you live with social anxiety or struggle to connect with individuals and groups about your experience with depression, pet-assisted therapy can provide another avenue for comfort and companionship.

Pet-assisted therapy, or animal-assisted therapy, helps clients to meet physical, mental, and emotional goals.

One study found that pet owners are 41% less depressed than non-pet owners. Caring for a pet can help people with depression to get more exercise, feel a sense of purpose, maintain a routine, and more.

You can find many pet-friendly rehab centers that allow animals (typically dogs and cats) or even incorporate pet-assisted therapy into their treatment approach.

Holistic Methods For Depression Management

While some people may benefit from things like medications and therapy, others may prefer to take a more holistic approach to recovery from depression.

It’s important to note that holistic treatments are fairly new to depression treatment in terms of research. These practices are hundreds or even thousands of years old, but they’ve only recently begun being studied for the treatment of mental health conditions such as depression.

So while there may be more of a gap in research when compared to evidence-based treatment modalities, the mental and physical benefits of many of these practices in general date back centuries.

Meditation

Meditation is a practice that can help improve awareness and attention, which can make it easier to change negative thought and behavior patterns associated with depression.

With increased awareness, people can choose how they react to negative experiences instead of being overpowered by them.

Chronic stress can increase cortisol levels, which can trigger the “fight or flight” response. Meditation is a tool for managing stress and anxiety and becoming less sensitive to these triggers.

Exercise

Exercise has many benefits that can help improve both our mental and physical health, including better sleep quality, increased immunity, and improved circulation.

Intense exercise has been shown to release endorphins, the body’s feel-good chemicals. This is where the term “runner’s high” comes from.

However, perhaps a greater benefit comes from regular low-intensity workouts sustained over a period of time. 

This type of exercise releases proteins responsible for the growth of nerve cells and their ability to form new connections. This improved brain function helps relieve depression, studies show. 

Yoga

The many physical and mental health benefits of yoga have been well documented. 

There are many different forms of yoga, such as Ashtanga yoga, Iyengar yoga, Kundalini yoga, hatha yoga, and vinyasa yoga, all of which provide health benefits. 

A regular yoga practice can provide increased mental clarity, calmness, and relaxation. It can also help relieve chronic stress patterns. 

This happens through being regularly exposed to new and often uncomfortable poses or series of poses, where the “fight or flight” response might be triggered.

Instead, practitioners stick with the experience and learn how to focus on and slow the breath during difficulties. Stress management tools such as these can help relieve depression.

Massage Therapy

A recent review of 17 separate massage studies involving 786 participants showed that massage therapy has a significant ability to alleviate symptoms of depression.

This may be because massage has been shown to help modulate brain circuitry, improve immune function, and improve circulation and parasympathetic tone.

Some researchers believe that massage therapy helps people with depression for some of the same reasons that other forms of therapy do. 

This includes the presence of a trusted therapist in a safe, comfortable environment for an allotted time period of about an hour.

Massage therapy can also help with the physical symptoms of depression by releasing tension from muscles and reducing muscle soreness.

Reflexology

Reflexology is a healing modality that involves applying pressure to areas of the foot that correspond with areas of the body exhibiting dysfunction or disease.

A 2020 review of 26 studies involving more than 2,500 people who received reflexology for the treatment of depression, anxiety, or sleep issues found that reflexology did contribute to alleviating these symptoms.

One study of 90 women with acute coronary syndrome showed that reflexology greatly reduced their symptoms of hospital-related anxiety and depression.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that involves putting small needles in the body at places where energy is blocked to harmonize the body’s energies and promote health. 

One review of research on acupuncture and depression showed that acupuncture was helpful in treating pregnant women with major depressive disorder.

In a review of acupuncture’s effect on nine different mental health conditions, people with depression were the most likely to report great results. 

Holistic Vs. Pharmaceuticals For Depression: Which Is Better?

Decisions about the treatment approach for depression are up to the patient and the clinician. A patient may choose to defer to their clinician for treatment advice, but it should include the patient’s preference regarding holistic or clinical. 

Many people find antidepressants such as Zoloft or Prozac (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) to help them improve mood, emotion, and sleep.

However, some clinical treatments that use a medication-based approach to recovery can actually pose a barrier to treatment for some people.

For example, people with addictions may be wary of relying on medications to alleviate mental illness symptoms for fear of becoming dependent or abusing the substance.

Others may have tried medications but failed to see any noticeable results, leaving them in a worse place than before. For people with addictions or those who’ve tried antidepressants without success, holistic approaches might be best.

Combining Clinical And Holistic Approaches

It’s often a combination of holistic and clinical approaches that provides the best treatment for people with depression.

For example, a person might use a combination of evidence-based individual therapy, meditation, journaling, and support groups to manage symptoms.

One of the most commonly recommended treatments for depression is what’s known as combination therapy. 

Your GP may suggest taking antidepressants in combination with some form of talk therapy. Individual psychotherapy, support groups, family therapy, and more can be great options.

What Are The Causes Of Depression?

Depression is a mental health condition that can be linked to many different clinical and circumstantial factors. 

Understanding the nature of depression and how it develops is helpful when treating the condition. 

Substance Use Disorders

Many substance use disorders have side effects that mimic depression. Chronic use of central nervous system (CNS) depressants, like opiates and alcohol, can cause depressive symptoms.

Conversely, symptoms of depression can occur during withdrawal from the chronic use of CNS stimulants, such as and especially cocaine.

People with depression might try to self-medicate their symptoms through the use of drugs and alcohol, but this can lead to substance abuse. 

Substance use disorders and mental health disorders are likely to occur together and tend to feed into each other. Treatment plans that address both conditions get the best results. 

Environmental Factors

A wide variety of environmental factors are linked with depression. These include environmental pollution, natural disasters, and non-chemical environmental stress.

People with depression are more likely to report experiencing regular strains and stresses in their daily lives. 

This might include their own or family members’ illnesses, relationship problems, and work difficulties. These people also typically display poorer coping mechanisms.

Air pollution has been linked with serious neurocognitive effects that can lead to neurodegeneration and behavioral changes, both of which may contribute to depression.

Experiencing a natural disaster can cause significant stress and even the development of post-traumatic stress disorder. Trauma and chronic stress have been linked with depression.

History Of Mental Illness

A new study shows that more than half of all people who are diagnosed with a mental illness will be diagnosed with another one or two sometime in their lives. 

The study reported that certain underlying genetic pathways make people with one type of disorder likely to develop another of a similar type. 

For example, major depression and anxiety tend to occur in the same individuals, as do obsessive-compulsive disorder and eating disorders.

Substance use disorders also commonly occur with mental health conditions at the same time. A better understanding of co-occurring disorders has aided in the development of better treatment options.

Major Life Changes

A buildup of stress has been shown to be a cause of depression and other mental health conditions.

Significant life changes are a major contributor to stress, with changes that would be considered good having almost as much of an impact as those that would be considered bad.

The Life Change Index Scale, which rates 1 to 100 the amount of stress that common major life events produce, ranks the death of a spouse as the most stressful event.

Divorce, a jail term, death of a family member, personal injury or illness, marriage, getting fired from work, and marriage reconciliation take the top spots.

Chronic stress and depression have a complex relationship, with each feeding into the other. If someone is depressed, they might isolate themselves, which in turn can increase stress levels. 

Types Of Depression And Mood Disorders

Depression affects everyone differently. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is one of the most common illnesses worldwide. 

It’s estimated that 3.8% of the world population is affected by some form of depression — that’s about 280 million people.

Depending on many of the factors listed above, a person may experience anything from situational depressive disorders, such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), to long-term cases of major depression.

It’s important to note that while each of the depression types may be accompanied by a range of varying signs and symptoms, any mood disorder has the potential to lead to suicidal thoughts.

If you or someone you love are at risk of suicide, call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

Major Depression

Major depression is characterized by periods of decreased mood, leaving significant impacts on both physical and mental well-being.

While many people may experience bouts of sadness, depression is persistent sadness that may last several weeks, months, or even years if left undiagnosed and untreated.

Some of the most common symptoms of major depression include:

  • feeling hopeless
  • emptiness
  • lack of purpose
  • no enjoyment in activities and hobbies
  • difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • avoiding friends and family
  • fatigue
  • low self-esteem
  • poor appetite

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is most commonly experienced during the winter months due to less sunlight exposure; however, some individuals may show signs of SAD in the Spring or Summer.

Especially in climates with much colder temperatures, snow, unpredictable weather, or other factors that may restrict transportation and the ability to go outside, SAD symptoms can be much worse.

Not only is it difficult to get outside and soak in much-needed vitamin D, but it may be challenging to see friends and family members, get to work (resulting in lost pay), or get exercise.

The holidays can also trigger addiction, depressive episodes, loneliness, and isolation, resulting in intensified symptoms of SAD.

Postpartum Depression

Many new mothers may experience postpartum depression. This is different from the “baby blues,” which may last up to two weeks after giving birth.

Women facing symptoms of postpartum depression may struggle to connect with their newborns and feel depressed for weeks or months.

Many women first develop symptoms of this disorder a few weeks after pregnancy; but for others, symptoms may not show until a year or later.

Signs of postpartum depression include:

  • depressed mood 
  • severe mood swings
  • lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • excessive crying
  • isolating
  • changes in appetite
  • difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • fatigue
  • trouble thinking clearly
  • intense irritability and anger
  • fear that you’re not a good mother
  • hopelessness
  • feeling shame or guilt

It’s important to note that if you’re experiencing postpartum depression (or the baby blues), there is nothing wrong with you. One in eight women experiences postpartum depression.

Situational Depression

As opposed to mood disorders like major depression, which may cause feelings of sadness and hopelessness independent from circumstances, situational depression typically manifests after a stressful life event.

This can include:

  • a job change
  • moving
  • adopting a child
  • losing a loved one
  • starting at a new school
  • a traumatic event

While many of the symptoms may look similar to clinical depression — sadness, frustration, excessive crying, loss of appetite — symptoms usually subside after sufficient time has passed.

If several weeks or months have passed since a major life event and you’re still living with the same level of sadness, you may need to seek professional care and explore the possibility of a major depression diagnosis.

Atypical Depression

A person with atypical depression may feel sad most of the time, but feel a lightened mood in response to a positive or enjoyable event.

Whereas a person with clinical depression or persistent depressive disorder (more on that below) may feel no change in mood in response to a positive event, people with atypical depression can have temporary positive changes in mood.

For example, someone with atypical depression might feel depressed when isolated but can feel happy when they attend a party or family gathering surrounded by people they love.

Mood Disorders That Can Cause Depression

Many mental health conditions can cause symptoms of depression or exacerbate existing mood disorders.

Persistent Depressive Disorder

Persistent depressive disorder may also be called dysthymia. This mood disorder is a chronic form of depression.

If you or your loved one are experiencing dysthymia, you may experience one or several of the same symptoms as major depression on a consistent basis. 

Symptoms may range from mild to severe, depending on personal, situational, and environmental factors.

Many people with persistent depressive disorder may be unaware that they’re living with the condition and believe this is simply how life feels for them.

But persistent depressive disorder can be treated, and you can make a full recovery.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar conditions involve interchanging symptoms of “highs” (mania) and “lows” (depression). 

This is not the same as depression, because depressive episodes are often followed by periods of intense euphoria and high energy, or a more neutral state.

This sudden shift can often cause a break in reality known as psychosis. No matter the severity of the condition, bipolar disorders cause changes that affect a person’s ability to function.

Resources For People Living With Depression

There are many free resources available to help people living with depression learn more about the condition and find treatment options.

Here are a few good places to start:

Resources for minorities living with depression:

Resources for women managing depression:

Depression and mental health hotlines:

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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