College Students: Treating Mild to Moderate Depression Without Medication
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Are you a college student struggling with depression? Depression may make it difficult for you to get ready for your day, let alone complete your daily activities. But you’re not alone. About 41% of college students in the United States experience depression. Also, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened depression among college students. 

Mild to moderate MDD can sometimes be treated effectively without antidepressants. The decision to medicate is personal. However, it is not recommended for all clients, and medication-free treatment is not effective in all cases.

2 traditional treatment options for depression in college students

It’s vital for college students to be informed about how to maintain good mental health (check out this video for some reasons why). And it’s important to know that medication may only be one potential treatment option for your depression. Here are two other traditional options for treating depression in college students:

  • Individual therapy — Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or interpersonal therapy, can help you process and cope with depression. It helps individuals learn coping skills, change negative thought patterns, and improve communication and relationship skills. For example, CBT focuses on your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. As part of CBT, a therapist can discuss your negative thoughts in a logical manner. For example, they can help you weigh the pros and cons of your negative thoughts. Through this process, a therapist can help you challenge the accuracy of those negative thoughts. 
  • Support groups — As a college student, consider checking to see if your school has free support groups for depression. Through listening to the experiences of your peers, you may feel less isolated. You can find comfort in knowing that you’re not the only person feeling this way. Joining a support group for depression can provide a sense of community.

3 alternative treatment options for depression in college students

Traditional treatment is effective. But you may be looking at alternative treatments that still don’t involve medication. Here are some common alternative treatments to try:

  • Get enough sleep— An effective lifestyle change is getting at least eight hours of sleep. During the transition from high school to college, college freshmen typically experience more independence over their schedule. This can cause you to cram too much into your schedule. This can make it difficult to get enough sleep. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. This helps regulate your body’s internal clock. It can also be helpful to establish a relaxing bedtime routine to signal to your body that it’s time to wind down. For example, you can try taking a warm bath.
  • Exercise — According to research, three to five exercise sessions each week for four to 16 weeks can be used as a treatment for depression. One of the main reasons is that exercise involves the release of endorphins. These are chemicals in your brain that make you feel good. It can also increase levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. These are known to improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression. Other benefits of exercise include reducing stress, improving sleep and boosting confidence. Some types of exercise you could try include walking, riding a bicycle and swimming.
  • Meditation — According to research, meditative exercises may help reduce your level of depression. Some college campuses can offer free meditation sessions to help you cope with depression. For example, you may be taught how to do breathing exercises and/or how to imagine traveling to your safe space. Both of these meditative exercises can help you focus on the present moment rather than on negative thoughts.

Each of the above treatments can either be used individually or together. Be sure to work with your mental health professional. They’ll ensure that the treatments you’re using are providing the right level of support for you. They should be effective for each stage of your depression treatment journey. 

Why drug-free treatments are effective for treating depression

From therapy to lifestyle changes, depression treatments that don’t require medication can make a notable impact on alleviating the symptoms. Here are a few benefits of treating depression without antidepressants:

  • Effective for mild to moderate depression — The severity of depression symptoms can vary from person to person. Drug-free treatments are often more effective for mild to moderate depression. Severe depression may require a combination of therapy and medication for optimal outcomes.
  • Commitment to treatment — As opposed to relying on an antidepressant, drug-free treatment encourages you to take control of your depression. Success often depends on the individual’s willingness to engage in therapy, make lifestyle changes and actively participate in their treatment plan.
  • Strong social support — Having a supportive network of friends, family or peers can boost the results of drug-free treatments. It provides emotional support and encouragement. These are essential as you go through therapy, make lifestyle changes and practice self-care.
  • Tailored treatment plan — As opposed to the go-to treatment of medication, a personalized treatment plan that doesn’t include drugs can consider your specific symptoms, needs and preferences. A personalized plan is more likely to be successful than one-size-fits-all approaches like antidepressants.
  • Triggers and underlying issues addressed — It’s important to identify and address triggers and underlying issues for your depression. That’s why therapy and support groups can improve treatment outcomes. You’re able to gain a perspective on your factors. 
  • Monitoring and adjustments — Regular monitoring of symptoms and progress is essential during treatment. Adjustments must also be made to the treatment plan as needed. You want to ensure that drug-free treatments remain effective over time.

It’s important to note that the effectiveness of medication-free treatments can vary. Some people may require a combination of therapy and medication for optimal management of their depression. Consult with a health care professional. They’ll help you determine the most appropriate treatment plan for your specific needs.

Lightfully U can help treat depression in college students through a variety of treatment programs

Are you a UC college student who is struggling with depression? Our clinical experts at Lightfully U offer virtual mental health care to support your mental health.

At Lightfully U, we value holistic treatment and measurable results. If you need more information about Lightfully U or how we can help treat your depression, reach out to us. We’re ready to support and empower you.

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