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How Should I Treat My Depression? | Dr. Glenn Berger PhD, Psychotherapist - The Blog

How Should I Treat My Depression?

Are you suffering from depression and wondering if you should take medication? Are you wondering what treatments are available without using pharmaceuticals?

Many people who experience depression struggle with the decision of whether to take medications or not. As a psychotherapist, I do not prescribe drugs.The experts on psychotropic medications, or medicines for psychological conditions, are psychiatrists, or psychopharmacologists. If you are considering medication, it is recommended that you make an appointment with a good psychiatrist.

However, these doctors are very expensive and often do not spend a great deal of time educating their patients.

As a result, when it comes to making a decision about medications, I believe it is my job help my clients become informed consumers. I want them to make their decision based on facts, as well as we can know them, and not superstition, myth, or misinformation.

First, I will give you some basic information on medications for the treatment of mental-health issues and the best treatment for depression.

Then, if you choose not to take meds, I will give you information on the best ways to treat depression without medication.

My goal is to make it easier for you to make a decision that is right for you.

When people ask my opinion about whether they should take medication, they worry:

How do I know if I really need them?
• Does taking medication mean I am weak?
• Does taking meds mean I am crazy?
• Will other people judge me?
• Is it bad to put any chemical in my body?
• Will I become dependent on these drugs?
• Will there be bad side effects?

Are these fears grounded in reality? Let’s find out.

How do I know if I really need them?

I believe that some people need to be on medication. If you have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness, like schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder, and if you have been directed by your physician to take meds you should probably do so. (Not knowing an individual case I cannot say for certain, but in all likelihood that is true.)

There are a few people who I would recommend not to take medications. These might be people who are not depressed but are just avoiding the difficult decisions of life.

But for most people, I would say that whether or not to take anti-depressants is a personal choice. If you would like to see if they will provide you with relief from suffering, I usually support that. Once you know all the facts, and are making a rational decision not based on fear, if you decide that you don’t want to take medications I most often support that choice as well. But, if you are not going to take medications, then you need to follow through on all of the other treatment recommendations to find a way past your suffering.

Does taking medication mean I am weak?

Suffering from depression, or taking medication to treat it, is not a sign of weakness. Facing your condition honestly, and taking action to combat it, is a sign of strength. Taking medications can help, but it is not the whole story. You still need to take the actions necessary to solve your problems, which are often at the root of your depression. Doing whatever you need to do to help you do that will increase your strength, not make you weaker.

Does taking meds mean I am crazy?

Despite the fact that untold millions take medications for a variety of conditions, many still feel a stigma is attached to taking medication for a mental condition. There is a bio-chemical component to all depressions, and people who suffer from depression either have a genetic pre-disposition to it, or have been physically or emotionally injured in some way. Many people recognize that there is nothing worse about having depression than needing glasses. People are not crazy for being near-sighted, and shouldn’t be considered so for having depression.

Will other people judge me?

We can’t predict everyone’s reaction, but anti-depressants are so common that everyone knows someone who takes them. You may be surprised to discover that the person you are afraid of judging you takes them, too.

Is it bad to put any medication in my body?

It is understandable that you may simply not like to put medications in your body. Putting chemicals in your body do have consequences, some predictable, some not. Like with any medical condition, you need to weigh the benefits over the downsides. That’s what I’m trying to help you with here.

Will I become dependent on these drugs?

Anti-depressant medications are not habit forming. Sometimes you do need to increase dosages over time. The only anti-depressant medication that I know about that is difficult to stop is Paxil. Paxil is used mainly for people who have anxiety with their depression. I have seen some people have trouble coming off of this drug and there is now a warning about this on the box. Because of this, I usually suggest that people take a different anti-depressant. There are many choices now, so you don’t have to take Paxil. Anti-anxiety medications, like Xanax and Klonipin, are habit forming. These should be used with more caution.

Will there be bad side effects?

Anti-depressant medications do help many people. They are easy to take. Most times, the side-effects are not that bad. For many of the most popular anti-depressant medications the most serious, and most common, side effects are sexual. In my practice, a majority of my clients do experience at least some sexual side effects. These can range from a total loss of libido, or sexual-interest, to a mild difficulty in reaching orgasm, with everything in between. However, as each generation of new medications come out, these seem to be less of a problem. Nevertheless, this is often a serious concern for many people. The only popular effective anti-depressant medication that does not have sexual side-effects that I know about is called Wellbutrin. This drug works on different brain chemicals than the standard medications. This choice is a bit stimulating, so if you suffer from high levels of anxiety with your depression this may not be the medication for you. However, in many cases, because of the sexual side effects, I recommend to my clients that they discuss Wellbutrin with their doctor.

Now that you know these basic facts, you may still choose to treat your depression without medications. If you make that choice, here is what you need to know and some suggestions of what you can do.

Sometimes depression will lift on its own, but in most cases it takes a great deal of hard work by the sufferer to find relief. It is certainly possible, but it does take effort and follow through.

In virtually all cases, depression emerges from a genetic predisposition that is triggered by some external events. This means that some people are more prone to depression than others, but it is usually some life circumstances that trigger the terrible symptoms.

In many cases you don’t have to have a biological predisposition to feel depressed. We are all dragged down now and again when life gets really hard.

In a few cases, the depression appears to be purely chemical, where nothing in life realtes to the bad feelings a person is having. Since most of the time it is a combination of the two, I am going to be speaking mainly to those people, although what I have to say can be helpful to anyone, whatever the source of their depression.

If you want to treat your depression without medication here are some suggestions of things you can do to help yourself find relief fast. There is research to support all of the suggestions that I am making.

Work with a good psychotherapist. Someone who can help you work through your feelings, truly hear you, coach you, keep you accountable, support and champion you is invaluable. It works.

Get a checkup. Sometimes thyroid issues can cause depression. Get a physical, get a blood test, and have them check your thyroid levels.

Exercise. Everyone knows that going to the gym helps with depression. I know it is hard to get yourself to go, but if you want to do something easy, take a pill.

Eat right. Get off the diet soda! Junk food, caffeine, and other crap would depress anyone. You’ve got to give your body the building blocks of the brain chemicals you will need to feel better. Very often depression is made worse because your body is run down. Give it the right fuel to heal.

Stop drugging and drinking. You won’t take a pharmaceutical, but you’re drinking and smoking pot or cigarettes? I don’t think so. Even though these drugs make you feel better in the moment, they make your depression worse in the long run. If you can’t stop, go to Alcoholics Anonymous, or the like.

Live right. Lower your stress, get out into nature, have a pet, read a good book, watch an amazing movie, go to school, don’t take crap from your boss. Stop cheating and lying.

Take the right supplements. None of us get enough of the right nutrients from the foods we eat. Research shows that a good multi-vitamin and fish oil can help with depression. It is also important to get enough vitamin D, especially in the winter. SAM-e is another natural supplement that can be very helpful for depression. Check to see if your adrenal system is depleted. You might need some amino acids to help rebalance your body.

Get enough light. For people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) there are products that you can buy that provide the light you need to get when the days are short.

Have contact with people. This may be the most important thing of all. Don’t isolate. Love is essential to healing depression.

If you have any other questions, feel free to ask them below.


Dr. Glenn Berger is a psychotherapist, relationship counselor, business and artist’s coach, and young person’s mentor. He sees patients in New York City, in Mt. Kisco, NY, and around the world by Skype.

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One comment

  1. I was prescribed depression medications, and despite being aware that things are not quite well with me for a while, I don’t feel like taking them. I have lost the drive for a lot of the things I enjoyed doing, I feel unhappy with my current life and without the energy to change it. Sometimes I feel a bit stronger and almost determined to make some reasonable changes, but then, I don’t feel making any progress. Then, I feel a failure and wasting my life away!
    Should I trybthe meds for the smaller period possible (the doctor told me I needed to be on meds for at least 6 months!)?