11 Alternatives to Antidepressant Medications

11 Alternatives to Antidepressant Medications


At Amen Clinics—one of the world leaders in applying brain imaging science to help people with emotional, behavioral, cognitive, and learning issues—calls from people experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts are way up.

According to a new poll 45% of Americans say the coronavirus pandemic is impacting their mental health. This is evidenced by the increased use of antidepressant medications during lockdown. According to a recent report, the number of new prescriptions for antidepressants filled during the pandemic jumped by nearly 19%. This isn’t surprising considering the pandemic is ramping up stress, worry, and isolation. All of this can trigger your vulnerabilities. But before you call your doctor and ask for antidepressants, you need to get the facts about these drugs.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are one of the most commonly prescribed types of antidepressants, and they come with a laundry list of side effects, including sexual dysfunction, insomnia, headaches, and nausea. They also carry a black box warning, meaning they pose the most serious and dangerous potential side effects, such as suicidal thoughts. In addition, once you start taking SSRIs, it can be very hard to stop.

The good news is, there are alternatives to antidepressants. Here are 11 things to try before considering medication.

Better Ways to Boost Moods

1. Attack the BRIGHT MINDS risk factors.

In Dr. Daniel Amen’s book The End of Mental Illness, he details the 11 BRIGHT MINDS risk factors that steal your mind and can increase mental illness, including anxiety. BRIGHT MINDS stands for:

B is for Blood flow

R is for Retirement/Aging

I is for Inflammation

G is for Genetics

H is for Head Trauma

T is for Toxins.

Mi is for Mind-Storms

I is for Immunity and Infections

N is for Neurohormones

D is for Diabesity

S is for Sleep

In The End of Mental Illness, you can learn how to prevent, treat, or minimize your risk factors to help soothe depression and other mental health issues. You can also watch this video for more information on how the BRIGHT MINDS risk factors impact depression and what you can do about them.


2. Check for and correct low thyroid function.

Hypothyroidism is a very common cause of depression. Be aware that most traditional medical professionals only check for “normal” levels of thyroid, but some people may have normal test results but have symptoms. It’s better to test for “optimal” levels.

3. Check your folate, vitamin B12, vitamin D, homocysteine, and other nutrient levels.

You can’t change what you don’t measure. Having abnormal levels of these vitamins and nutrients have been linked to symptoms of depression. Work with a nutritionally informed physician, such as a functional medicine physician, to check and optimize your nutrient levels. To boost methylfolate and vitamin D levels, take a high-quality supplement.

4. Check your omega-3 level.

Approximately 93% of the population has sub-optimal levels of omega-3 fatty acids. The Omega-3 Index is a blood test that measures your omega-3 level. Try to get it above 8% by using 1,000mg-3,000mg of omega-3 fish oil. EPA has been found effective for depression, so be sure to choose a high-quality fish oil like Omega-3 Power that is rich in EPA.

5. Eliminate processed foods as well as artificial dyes, preservatives, and sweeteners.

Some people say they can’t afford to eat well, but how much is your depression costing you? A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that eating really well can cost just an extra $1.50 a day. That’s less than the cost of one session with most psychiatrists.

6. Try an elimination diet for 3 weeks.

Food heals, or it steals your mind. To determine if your diet is contributing to your depression, eliminate sugar, gluten, dairy, corn, soy, and other potentially allergenic foods from your diet for 3 weeks. Then add each one back one at a time (except for sugar, which you should eliminate for good) and take note of any reactions to them, which would indicate that you should permanently eliminate that food.

7. Increase protein, lower carbs, and add colorful vegetables to your diet.

A 2016 study showed a linear correlation between the number of fruits and veggies in your diet and your level of happiness. Eat right to feel right.

8. Eliminate the ANTs (automatic negative thoughts).

Whenever you have a thought, your brain releases chemicals. Whenever you have an angry, hopeless, helpless, or worthless thought, your brain releases chemicals that make you feel bad. On the flip side, hopeful, helpful, loving, happy thoughts release chemicals that make you feel good. If you focus on what you hate about your life, you’ll hate it. Focus on what you love about your life, and you will love your life. During the pandemic, write down what’s great about staying home, such as spending more time with family, having time to learn something new, and so on.

9. Exercise

In a head-to-head study against Zoloft, exercise was equally effective in treating depression at 12 weeks. At 10 months, exercise was more effective than antidepressant medication.

To get the antidepressant benefits of exercise, walk like you’re late for 45 minutes 4-5 times a week. In addition, do weight training twice a week as it can increase testosterone, which improves mood, memory, and motivation. And do some kind of coordination exercise, such as table tennis, to work your cerebellum, which activates the rest of your brain.

10. Take saunas.

Getting a good sweat from taking saunas has been shown to help reduce symptoms associated with depression.

11. Take the following nutraceuticals:

Several natural supplements have A-level or B-level scientific evidence for mood. What does that mean? A-level means there is robust research conducted with more than 2 placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trials. B-level means there are multiple studies where at least 2 are placebo-controlled, double-blind studies. Among these well-studied supplements for mood are:

  • Saffron: There are more than 20 studies showing saffron is more effective than placebo and equal to the antidepressants Prozac, Zoloft, Effexor, and imipramine for depression.
  • Curcumin: Studies have found that curcumin—not as turmeric root but as Longvida, which is much more efficiently absorbed—helps with depression.
  • Zinc: A review of the existing studies suggests potential benefits of zinc supplementation—as citrate or glycinate—either as a stand-alone therapy or as an adjunct to antidepressants for depression.

All of these supplements are found in BrainMD’s Happy Saffron Plus.

Another helpful supplement is SAMe, which has been shown in randomized placebo-controlled studies to help with depression. It is the main active ingredient in BrainMD’s SAMe Mood & Movement.

Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and other mental health issues can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever, and waiting to get treatment until the pandemic is over is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples, as well as in-clinic brain scanning to help our patients. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.



  1. As a registered nurse, I entered the field hoping to help people find what heals them. I was then educated about the appropriate standards of care for the patient. I do believe the philosophy of care practiced by the Amen Clinic’s is the first appropriate standard of care we need to prescribe for all patients. I love the idea of measuring the folate, vitamin B12, vitamin D, homocysteine, and other nutrient levels of each patient to discover the nutritional needs each patient has. Exercise is also to be prescribed as medicine. How can we increase people’s desire to exercise? It is so fun and beneficial and the best reason is to exercise is to find something you enjoy. Thank you for asking.

    Comment by Mary Patricia Hyslop — June 22, 2020 @ 9:56 AM

  2. If on an antidepressant (Mirtazapine), are the neutracueticals mentioned safe to take alongside them?

    Comment by Catherine — May 20, 2022 @ 6:20 PM

  3. Hello Catherine, thank you for reaching out. Please contact our team at BrainMD Health regarding the use of supplements: https://brainmd.com/contact

    Comment by Amen Clinics — May 23, 2022 @ 3:10 PM

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