Alternatives to Anti-depressants

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Jeanne Mayell’s recent column in The Wellesley Townsman alerted parents to the teen suicide risks of anti-depressants. She said, “…they found that after being on the drug for many months, significantly more people became suicidal on the antidepressant than on the placebo.” This naturally leads to the question: are there alternatives? The short answer is: yes. Several alternatives exist for treating depression and I will discuss them below. Equally important, though, are the options for preventing depression-- and I will talk about these in the next article.

Before going further, you need to know that I am not a medical professional. I have a masters' in Positive Psychology and additional training in optimism and resilience. My intent here is to provide information for parents who want to research anti-depressant alternatives and particularly for those who want to prevent teen depression. Please talk with a physician or clinical psychologist before deciding upon the best approach for your teen.

Why It Matters
Depression is at an all-time high: incidences have increased 1000% in 50 years [note: for those who wonder if the increase is due to better reporting, it is not]. Sadly, depression now starts earlier: the average age of onset has gone from age 30 to age 14.5. It is estimated that 20% of high school students (240 in a school of 1200) will have a serious depressive episode.

While 20% --one in five teens-- is a high rate, this does not even include the students who have some symptoms of depression or anxiety. In 1988, researcher Jean Twenge found that “normal kids” showed more symptoms of anxiety than psychiatric patients in the 1950s. Data from the Penn Resiliency Program showed middle school students with depressive symptoms, who were not yet clinically depressed. These symptoms doubled in two years when left untreated.

Treating Depression
Clearly we need effective, low-risk treatments. Fortunately, there are three approaches, besides anti-depressants, that parents can consider: 1) Homeopathy, 2) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and 3) Positive Interventions.

Homeopathy is a natural medical approach developed by a physician in the 1850s. It has not had the same level of study that pharmaceuticals have had, so parents need to understand it carefully before deciding on the approach they feel is best for their children. For parents seeking an alternative to pharmaceutical drugs, however, this may be an option. It works somewhat like a vaccine, using infinitesimal amounts of natural substances that trigger the individual’s system to heal itself (quantum physics principles can explain how it works). Homeopathy has been used to treat depression in teens. Two local homeopaths are Jerry Kantor in Wellesley and Mathilde Flores in Maynard, MA.

Another approach is CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), a psychotherapy approach that has been used for over 30 years. Psychiatrist Aaron Beck showed that it is our thoughts—specifically the way we explain events to ourselves—that causes depression. With CBT, an individual is guided to change their damaging thought patterns. Studies have shown that CBT is as effective as anti-depressants in many cases.

Positive Interventions are a third alternative and potentially the most powerful. In one study, 12 weeks of psychotherapy using Positive Interventions worked better than a combination of anti-depressants and traditional therapy. In a second study of college students with moderate depression, Positive Interventions-- used for six weeks-- reduced depressive symptoms significantly and increased life satisfaction. The effects lasted for the full year of follow-on testing, which is longer than typically expected. These studies were done by Marty Seligman, Tayyab Rashid, and Acacia Parks at the University of Pennsylvania (American Psychologist, 2006).

Treating depression effectively, without putting our children at increased risk, is critically important, but it is not enough. Far better is to prevent depression from occurring in the first place and I will discuss this in the next article.

For more information on the alternatives above, please click on the following links:



Positive Interventions in Psychotherapy:

My Website:

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