15 December 2014

Alternative treatment for mild depression

Depression can affect just about anyone but, luckily, the condition is largely treatable. While traditional treatment typically involves psychological therapy, antidepressant medication or a combination of the two, mild cases can be treated through alternative means, including yoga, aromatherapy and various dietary supplements.


No one is immune to depression. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) states that at least 1 in 3 people will suffer some form of mental illness during their lifetime

The good news is that 80-90% of all people with depression respond well to treatment, while almost all of those who are appropriately treated will experience at least some symptom relief.

The two main methods of treating depression are:

Psychological counselling: Here, a psychologist provides skills and strategies to change negative thinking patterns and behaviours that contribute to depression. 

Antidepressant medication: This kind of therapy helps to restore the brain's chemical balance to improve mood. The Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and the Serotonin and Noradrenaline Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) are most frequently prescribed.

Find out: Is it mild depression?

While the benefits of depression treatment by far outweigh the disadvantages, some researchers have expressed concern about the 10-20% of people who simply don’t respond to conventional therapies and medication. 

Worldwide, people who live with depression also remain interested in more natural approaches to this very common condition. Natural remedies are generally less expensive and widely available. Could such a treatment work for you?

Natural remedies
A wide range of self-help measures and alternative therapies can be useful for some types of depression, according to Counsellors at Australia’s Black Dog Institute

Around the world, these are some of the alternative and complementary options used to manage mild depression:

St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum): This herb has been used for medical purposes in many parts of the world for centuries and is very popular in Europe specifically. While research findings have been mixed, most studies show that it does seem to work for mild to moderate depression (not for the more severe forms). But be careful: St John's wort can limit the effectiveness of certain prescription medicines (yes, also antidepressants) and can have some side effects. Never use it without first consulting a health practitioner.  

Aromatherapy: There’s proof that aromatherapy can help in the management of mental disorders, including depression, and that it works particularly well in combination with massage therapy. A Yale University article noted that some essential oils affect the nervous system and can help relieve tension and anxiety, reduce blood pressure and improve mood. The oils most commonly used for depression and anxiety are jasmine, lavender, sandalwood, ylang-ylang, rose and bergamot. 

Read: De-stress with aromatherapy

Omega-3 fatty acids: There’s some evidence that the omega-3 essential fatty acids, commonly found in fish such as salmon, tuna and trevalla, or in supplement form, play a role in mental wellbeing, particularly in people with bipolar disorder. But some studies also demonstrate antidepressant properties

In a research article entitled The Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the Treatment of Depressive Disorders, published on in May 2014, a team of researchers noted that the use of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids is effective in people with a diagnosis of major and minor depressive disorders. These fats seem to be especially beneficial in people who don’t also have an anxiety disorder.

Vitamin B3, B6, B12 and folic acid: Researchers know that the B vitamins play a role in producing brain chemicals – also those that affect mood. It’s been suggested that low levels of these vitamins may be linked to depression. For this reason, it may well be worth considering supplementation. However, first aim to include more vitamin B-rich foods, e.g. vegetables, whole-grains, eggs, milk and fortified breakfast cereals, in your diet.

Read: Certain vitamins can improve symptoms of post-partum depression

Yoga: Yes, yoga can reduce symptoms of depression, good research shows. In fact, the US Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement and the Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatments both recommend yoga for the reduction of depression symptoms. Yoga seems to work best in combination with other treatments (e.g. psychotherapy and/or antidepressants).

Do you feel the need to explore alternative treatments for depression? Then speak to your doctor about your options and find out what’s safe to use in combination with your existing treatment. Also be sure to exercise regularly, to get sufficient sleep and to follow a healthy, balanced diet – all of which will contribute positively to your mental health.

REMEMBER: Depression is a serious mental illness that could lead to suicide. Speak to your GP, psychologist or psychiatrist urgently if you’re struggling to cope. Alternatively, call the South African Depression and Anxiety Group's (SADAG) Mental Health line on 011 234 4837.

Sources:;; Yale Scientific

Read more:
Mental Illness in SA: are we getting the help we need?
Teen girls may face greater depression risk
Depression behind SA bars

Image: St John's wort from Shutterstock


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Depression expert

Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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