Alternative Treatments

There are a multitude of ways to treat depression and anxiety that do not require the use of medication, but most people still don’t know about them.

Learn more about mindfulness, meditation, journal keeping, music and light therapy, and positive changes in diet, exercise, and sleep routines.

Why Alternative Treatments?

While it is true that medication benefits those dealing with mental health conditions mostly grounded in biological factors, it may not be the most effective treatment for people grappling with the psychosocial (psychological and social) side of mental health conditions. This is where alternative treatments come in.

Rather than altering anything biological, alternative treatments aim to reshape the mind. A broad category in this field of medicine is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. This is generally what people are referring to when they say they are “going to a therapist”. But even this statement has stigma surrounding it. Going to a therapist can actually be very beneficial and is not something to be afraid of. Often, therapy in combination with medication is the most effective treatment for a wide range of mental health conditions.

Other Forms of Treatment

Say therapy isn’t your thing. There are plenty of other options in the alternative treatment realm that can be taken on by individuals without any outside help whatsoever.


Mindfulness training is becoming more and more popular in our modern world, and people are turning to it as a source of relief from mental health issues. There are many different interpretations of what “mindfulness” really is, but a general consensus is this: “Mindfulness is focusing one’s awareness onto being in the present moment in a non-judgmental way.” Being mindful means drawing on the senses to be fully in the present without judging what you perceive. While it may be a complicated process to learn, mindfulness can help restore your connection with your surrounding world, others, and yourself. This sense of connectivity can also help people understand themselves and their brain better, which can be extremely useful when dealing with a mental health condition.


Meditation is often regarded jokingly as simply sitting cross-legged and humming loudly. But it is actually practiced by millions of people around the world! Mindfulness meditation generally involves sitting in a quiet, dark space for a specified period of time while closing your eyes and allowing your mind to wander. Similar to mindfulness training, the goal of this form of meditation is to be nonjudgmental. The difference is that while meditating, people often choose to focus on visualizations, replaying events or imagining scenarios in their head. This can be especially beneficial as a source of closure for some issues people have, or to reduce anxiety about an upcoming situation or event a person is worried about.

Journal Keeping

Journal keeping is less of a mental exercise but can still provide a positive outlet for anyone struggling with a mental health condition. Anyone can pick up a piece of paper and a pencil or pen and let their thoughts spill out. The relief of stress that comes with releasing suppressed thoughts and feelings through journal keeping is incredible; you don’t have to be a fantastic writer to express yourself. Keeping a record of your thoughts and emotions can also be a great way to measure the effectiveness of a treatment for a mental health condition. Instead of having to keep a mental record of everything you think and feel, those emotions will come out naturally through your entries. Journal keeping can be done anywhere and anytime, which makes it a great way to cope with mental health issues.

Music Therapy

Dating back to the ancient Greeks, music has been used as a therapeutic technique. Both listening to and playing music have positive psychological effects on people dealing with mental health conditions. For some people, tunes and lyrics provide a better form of comfort than any other form of therapy, but for most people music therapy comes in the form of day-to-day life. Often people will listen to their favorite music after a tiring day, and this is in fact a very basic form of music therapy! Everyone can benefit from this technique, and those who want to achieve the best effect possible will often hire a professional music therapist to play for them. This form of therapy can effectively boost levels of the hormone dopamine in the brain.

Light Therapy

This therapeutic method, also known as bright light therapy or phototherapy, is primarily used to treat different types of depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It involves the use of a light therapy box, which is designed to mimic natural outdoor light. This light increases the amount of serotonin (a positive, mood-affecting neurotransmitter) in the brain. The increase of serotonin alleviates symptoms of depression and SAD, and is one of the easiest treatments available for these conditions. In certain conditions, light therapy can also be used to treat sleep disorders by adjusting the body’s circadian rhythm. Overall, light therapy is a much more specialized form of treatment for mental health conditions, but it has proven to be very effective.

Lifestyle Changes

Eating healthy, getting proper exercise, and developing healthy sleep habits all have one thing in common that you may not have realized: they can improve your mental health. Foods such as leafy greens, fruit, wholegrains, seafood, and dark chocolate all enhance vital brain functions, making you feel much better and healthier. Aerobic exercise releases endorphins, which provides a significant mood boost. Exercising for 30 minutes a day, everyday, is a great goal that will keep both your brain and body healthy. A last important lifestyle change is maintaining beneficial sleep habits. Limiting screen time before you go to sleep, waking up at around the same time each morning, and reducing caffeine intake all benefit your mental health.

There is no health without mental health.

David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D.

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