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Can You Deal With Depression Without Medication?

In some cases it will be possible to deal with depression without medication.  You need to assess your case carefully.  If you are already on medication, then you will need to plan and review any changes with your GP and psychiatrist and carefully monitor any changes that you make.

Having said that, the evidence from my work is that most, though not all of our psychological and emotional states, relate to our experiences.  So, the clearer we can be about the link between those things the more likely we are to get more control over our moods.  The challenge is in finding a way to see the link between what has happened to us and how we feel.

Can cognitive and behavioural based approaches encourage you to change the way you respond to things?

Cognitive approaches imply that it is down to you to change the way you feel, down to you to pick a different response.  These approaches may work for some people but in my view, it makes more sense to become better able to see the links between our moods, our depressed feelings and what these feelings relate to than it does for us to try to force ourselves to change the way we feel about things.

Will a healthier lifestyle help you deal with your depression?

Approaches like these suggest that through a commitment to better lifestyle we can feel better about ourselves, better diet, more exercise.  Again, these approaches may work for some people.

Understanding what your symptoms relate to

I see many people who have developed symptoms which go onto become part of a diagnosis of depression and for which medication is proscribed.  But it often seems that the symptoms that are being taken for depression are actually a response to underlying experiences which are themselves not being properly considered.

Bad things make us feel bad.

For example, you may experience:

  • anxiety, stress, sleep problems, health issues such as headaches, stomach and bowel problems,
  • you may have developed obsessional behaviours.

It is common place that these symptoms become the basis of a diagnosis of depression and that medication is given. These kinds of symptoms are like a tick list that means medication is appropriate, but this can obscure the sense of what your symptoms relate to.

Emotional symptoms which are taken as proof of depression often relate to difficult experiences that we have had.

The kind of symptoms I have listed above are frequently found in people who have:

  • been bullied or abused either at school or home as children, or in a marriage
  • problems at school
  • unhappy marriages
  • problems at work
  • undiagnosed physical problems
  • suffered or been exposed to trauma or repeated trauma
  • suffered complicated bereavement
  • live or lived with alcoholic or drug dependent partners

To take one example, if you experienced trauma at an early age which was not identified or addressed at the time, then it is probable that you will go onto develop certain behaviours;

  • Problems with concentration
  • Problems at school; with truancy, possibly leading to petty theft, exclusion.

These behaviours tend to go with a decline in emotional well-being.  Because you weren’t being well cared for, you fail to develop a good model of care for yourself.

It is all too easy for this to go onto become the basis of a diagnosis of depression, but which in fact all stemmed from the early traumatic issues.

How many of the people who claimed that they were groomed and sexually abused went onto have their claims ignored, and were given diagnoses of depression and put on medication?

As has become all too clear through our growing awareness of sexual abuse scandals, people really were abused, and their claims ignored and read as proof of things such as depression.  The victims were treated like sick people.

Can you put yourself in a position to understand the history of your moods and symptoms to see what your state of depression may relate to?

I am not suggesting that depression does not exist, or that medication isn’t valuable or does not have a place, but I do think that we should be careful to try to understand what the origin of the depression is.  It is as necessary to try to address the underlying problem, as it is to treat the symptom.  Can you find a way to do both?

Your emotional states tend to relate to your experiences

You may not need medication to deal with and address the consequences of your experience.

In certain cases, if you find a way of identifying the origins of things, of taking yourself and your experience seriously, then you stop seeing it as depression, and instead as something that requires more careful attention.  More like the care you should have got at the time the original trauma happened.  That is the basis of a healthy lifestyle.

If it is the case that you suffered early unacknowledged problems, then as you find a way to acknowledge them, you may start to get and to give yourself the proper care and attention you need, and to start to feel differently about yourself.

This can then become the basis of reviewing the diagnosis you have been given, and of reviewing any medication you are on.  From this basis it may become possible to cut your medication down while carefully monitoring the changes and progress you experience.  It is important to do this with your GP and/or psychiatrist.

You may be able to deal with your depression without medication.   But you may need help to commit to taking the origins of your experience more seriously.

Can You Deal With Depression Without Medication?

Toby Ingham

Toby Ingham is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and supervisor based in High Wycombe in England. Toby works on both a short and long-term basis with people who are trying to work through a variety of situations. Sometimes these relate to a specific event such as CPTSD, bereavement, divorce or redundancy, sometimes relating to a more general problem or behavior. He blogs on a wide range of psychological themes.

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APA Reference
, . (2018). Can You Deal With Depression Without Medication?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Jul 2018
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