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10 Drug-Free Therapies for Depression

By Therese Borchard | Published Apr 28, 2015

Copyright © 2015 Everyday Health Media, LLC All Rights Reserved

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According to the Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression (STAR*D) study, an unbiased investigation funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, at standard doses of the most commonly used class of antidepressants (SSRIs), only 30 percent of people with severe depression achieve remission with the first medication prescribed. Switching to a new drug — and it often takes twelve weeks to achieve an adequate response to medication — is effective about 25 percent of the time. So after 24 weeks (close to 6 months), only 55 percent of people with severe depression will experience a remission of symptoms.

To evaluate the effectiveness of TMS in inpatient settings, the investigators analyzed patient information for 37 patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder and melancholia admitted to the Pine Rivers Private Hospital. All participants had persistent major depressive symptoms despite trying at least two antidepressants. Of the patients, 70% were female. The primary outcome measure was change in Montgomery–Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) score from baseline to the end of TMS treatment.

That isn’t exactly good news to me.

What about the other 45 percent?

Every day on Project Beyond Blue, my depression community, I hear from someone who has unsuccessfully tried 20, 30, or 40 different medication combinations and is hanging on to life by a very thin thread. I know that desperation myself, which is why, in the last two years, I have spent a lot of time and money exploring different alternative therapies.

Here are 10 non-drug therapies for depression that have provided some relief to members in my community or to friends I know battling this beast. Even if you don’t have treatment-resistant depression, they are good to know about and can be used in addition to taking medication to build extra resiliency. Remember that I am just a highly-opinionated (but well-researched) writer, not a doctor, so consult with your physician before changing the course of your treatment.

1. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

I can’t count on my fingers the number of people I know who have been saved by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Former advertising executive Martha Rhodes certainly was. In her riveting memoir, 3000 Pulses Later, she shares her journey back to health with this new technology. TMS involves a non-invasive procedure that stimulates nerve cells in the brain with short magnetic pulses. A large electromagnetic coil is placed against the scalp which generates focused pulses that pass through the skull and stimulate the cerebral cortex of the brain, a region that regulates mood. The procedure was approved by the FDA in 2008.

I first heard about TMS two years ago. I investigated it for myself, but my insurance didn’t cover it, and all 30 sessions can run about $15K. However, due to efforts made by Neuronetic, Inc., a leader in TMS technology, insurance coverage for patients has increased from 100 million to over 200 million people, in both government and commercial insurance plans. A recent study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry demonstrated the long-term effectiveness and durability of NeuroStar TMS Therapy in adult patients for over a period of one year. Just this morning the company announced that it has $34.4 million (including an investment from GE Ventures) to spend in order “to broaden treatment accessibility for existing patient populations in need of a non-drug therapy option.”


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