As a caregiver and someone who is watching a loved one struggle with a mood disorder, finding your way around the world of “cures” and healing techniques can be confusing. Most people start with a trip to a therapist who can screen you and then recommend where to go for help. Typically, the standard treatment is talk therapy in conjunction with medication. Psychiatric medications can be prescribed by Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners, Psychiatrists and increasingly by your Primary Care Physician.
Although seeking treatment from a PCP is convenient and can be easier to schedule than finding a specialist, sometimes finding a skilled psychiatric prescriber will benefit you in the long run. These professionals are specialists in the treatment of depression, anxiety, bipolar and other mental health disorders. Having a medication specialist for depression will likely improve your chances of finding the best treatment options for your family member.
What Are Some of the Non Traditional ( or Alternative) Treatments for Depression?
There are probably many more treatments but here are some of the top “alternative” or adjunct treatments to medication and/or talk therapy.
- rTMS, or Repeated Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation -a form of brain stimulation therapy which uses magnetic impulses instead of electricity to stimulate parts of the brain. It was develped in the early 1980’s as a possible treatment for depression. According to PsychiatricTimes, there are many people do not respond to pharmacological interventions, which is estimated to be 20-40% of 121 million people globally who suffer from depression.
- The use of light boxes for people with seasonal affective disorder (SAS). This seemingly benign treatment needs close analysis and awareness of the possible safety issues. It is always prudent to include your your doctor of pharmacist in the discussion about medications and/or medical conditions which might be made worse if light box therapy is introduced. Check out CET.org for the latest safety information on this treatment.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy –
- Massage treatments – According to the American Massage Therapy Association, therapy has long been a treatment for myriad medical and mental health wellness approaches.
- Hypnosis – The focus seems to be on the ability of hypnosis to enhance treatment of depression when coupled with other therapies, e.g., Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for example. It is considered another effective tool in the treatment of depression by many therapists.
- Sleep Deprivation Therapy – this therapy reportedly has quite a high success rate but the down side is that the mood boost usually only lasts until the patient falls asleep. Scientific America has an in depth article on “Why Sleep Depravation Eases Depression”.
- Chinese herbal medicine – Some practitioners, Joel Harvey Schrek of PositiveHealthOnline, among them, contend that unlike western medicine approaches, Chinese Herbal Medicine has the potential to cure mental illness.
- Psychosurgery – this type of treatment has been around for a long while and is typically a collaboration between psychiatry and neurosurgery. It is widely reported that about 1/3 of patients show significant improvement in their symptoms after surgery. Over time the side effects have diminished and makes it a viable choice for intractable depression.
What Role Do Alternative Therapies Play in Treating Depression?
For a majority of people, alternative therapies are used in conjunction with medication and/ or talk therapy. In addition, research does indicate that patients have longer lasting results when using these therapy approaches together. However, the path to feeling better does not always end with a prescription and a good therapist. People are increasingly adding or replacing the “go to” approaches (Medication & Therapy) with the some of the alternative treatments above.
If your loved one is struggling with depression and wants to try the “alternative therapies” what is one to say? Well, according to Andrew Solomon, Author of “The Noon Day Demon – An Atlas of Depression” , there are many people who report being helped or healed by alternative therapies. The idea of deviating from the tried and true treatments of depression can sometimes be worrisome but Mr. Solomon responds to the dilemma this way:
“Depression is a disease of thought processes and emotions, and if something changes your thought processes and emotions in the correct direction, that qualifies as a recovery. Frankly, I think that the best treatment for depression is belief, which is in itself far more essential than what you believe in.” p137
Simply put, there are so many variables playing into the healing of mental dis ease – your specific situation, your openness, genetics, the sociological and physiological factors all play a role in the “healing” factor. So when it comes to supporting a loved one struggling with mental dis-ease, supporting their quest for alternative techniques and treatments is like keeping that space open for healing opportunites, whatever form they may come in.
4 Ideas for Supporting a Family Member with Depression And The Use of Alternative Treatments:
- Become educated about the alternative treatments available and whether adding one of them can help existing treatment of the depression. Keep an open mind and approach these therapies with a curiosity rather than skepticism.
- Seek out the best possible practitioner of the treatment. Talk with professionals for possible referrals.
- Support the person in their quest to feel better- even if your psychiatrist is against the idea, support your family member and understand the pros and cons of alternative treatments.
- Encourage your family member to join a support group which focuses on their particular illness for bipolar or depression and anxiety.
As Solomon points out, in the end, emotional pain and the alleviation of it, is not a new phenomenon. For most of the people suffering with depression, the combination of medication with psychotherapy is an excellent place to begin. Just be prepared, if your family member’s depression does not subside or it is a long term chronic depression, the quest to be well might involve healing of a different sort— utilizing some of the alternative therapies mentioned above may be warranted.