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23 Surprisingly Effective Treatments for Depression (One Year Later)


For the live-updated, interactive version of this infographic, click here.

A year ago, we published one of our most popular findings – 6 surprisingly effective treatments for depression. I went ahead and repeated the analysis today, and now we have 23 treatments in the “surprisingly effective” category for depression.

This chart is based on 4,956 people with depression who participated in CureTogether surveys, compared to 944 people last year.

The top treatments are still exercise, sleep, and talking to others – they are popular and effective ways to feel better when you’re depressed.

But here are 23 things you may not have tried that thousands of others say worked well for them:

1. Music therapy
2. Art therapy
3. Mindful meditation
4. Massage therapy
5. Group sports
6. Breathwork
7. Light therapy
8. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
9. Neurofeedback
10. Tai Chi
11. Personal growth workshops
12. Support groups
13. Xanax
14. Sertralin
15. Venlaxafin
16. Mirtazapine
17. Shiatsu
18. Dialectical Behavior Therapy
19. Lamictal
20. Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy
21. Bibliotherapy
22. Synthroid
23. SAM-e

Another new thing on this chart: alcohol was added as a treatment, and was rated to make depression worse instead of better.

To navigate the graph above:

The top right quadrant shows the most popular and effective treatments, and the top left quadrant shows treatments that not many people have tried but that have above-average effectiveness, so they may be options to think about (e.g. the 23 treatments listed above).

Treatments in the lower right quadrant are ones that lots of people have tried but that have below-average effectiveness (e.g. caffeine, fish oil), and treatments in the lower left quadrant are reported as neither popular nor effective, so you may want to consider this when choosing a treatment (e.g. Effexor, Paxil).

Where did this data come from? CureTogether members have been anonymously sharing symptoms and treatments for almost 3 years now. We analyzed and visualized the data into infographic form to make it more accessible. To thank everyone for their contributions, we’re releasing this result back to the community for free.

This is part of our regular series of research findings. Of course, with each of these findings, there is a potential bias in patient self-selection and recall. Every research study has some bias, so we present these findings as just what they are – patient-reported data – to stimulate discussion and generate new insights for further research. Stay tuned for more and please let us know in the comments below if this was helpful or interesting for you.

Please tweet, blog, or pass this along to anyone who can benefit or is interested in depression. Thank you!


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30 Responses to “23 Surprisingly Effective Treatments for Depression (One Year Later)”

  1. How do you click on a blue button to see what it is? Only some are listed

  2. Hi Georgia, you can see all the dots in the interactive version at http://curetogether.com/depression/ig/treatment-effectiveness-vs-popularity

  3. art therapy has been my salvation. rented a studio, put all my supplies in there, and show up more and more often to get something done. gets me out of house. share it with someone to keep rent down. on a river. great light costs 125 a month . cheap, as i dont buy coffee, cigarrettes, sugar, junk food, or anything from retail stores i can buy at a second hand shop or tag sale or flea market i can justify expense of getting art supplies out of house. and can go there when i want to.

  4. [...] graphs were on Depression and ADHD and the best treatments users of the site have found for them. What I was amazed by is [...]

  5. How is depression defined? What distinguishes treatments aimed at mild or sub clinical depression from severe depression? What’s the definition of effective?

  6. I have received mirtazapine (no. 16), and I gained 26 kg weight at 3 months. So I can not recommend that.

  7. Just noticed an issue with your infographic there: you have at least one drug on there twice under it’s brand and generic name. Effexor is in the lower left quadrant (not very popular and not very effective) while venlafaxin (should actually be spelled venlafaxine) is in the upper left quadrant (not very popular, but effective).

    I guess this comes from the nature of your data being an amalgamation of anecdotal evidence from over 5,000 people. With that many people naturally some people are going to call the same thing by a different name. It may be a good idea to go through and find all such instances (if there are others) and group them together.

  8. Thanks for pointing that out, John! Yes, we are in the process of going through all the submitted treatments and canonicalizing them. Your feedback is much appreciated!

  9. It seems you have incorporated some of my recommendations. Thank you for this.

  10. A very interesting list. I agree with many of the big ones, exersize, talking with family/friends, adequate sleep, daily routine, play outside, etc. I noticed there’s a lot of new age or Eastern thought type of coping skills. I might be labeled as right wing for saying this, but one of the main reasons I’m able to enjoy life is because I know there is a God who created me and loves me. I had a purpose before this life and will continue to have a purpose going onto the next life. And that’s all I’m going to say about that. I also quit alcohol and sugar which improved my life a HUGE amount.

  11. i dont believe that. alcohol has helped me a lot. occasional drinking (3-4 times a week) definitely helps. smonking is definitely a downer.

  12. [...] want to be on medication.  However, medication is not the only solution to depression. There are other forms of therapy as well. Music and art therapy, meditation and massage, light therapy, neurofeedback and [...]

  13. @gumus alyans

    In your particular case, alcohol might have some positive effect on your depression.

    In my experience, alcohol might seem as a temporary relief cq. sedation to ‘numb off’ a bit helping to ‘forget’ your negativity temporarily. But eventually, it will lead you back to the place you started, since it never any more than an escape.

    In no case can alcohol be recommended as definitively helpful as it is shown in many studies it mimics and reinforces symptoms of depression and may lead to severe drinking problems and addiction which makes matters even worse.

    Don’t flee into anything but confront your fears. Talk to people. Exercise. Visit mother nature frequently and just walk. Try to see it is only your thoughts which are unhappy. You are not your thoughts.

  14. [...] 23 surprisingly effective treatments for depression [...]

  15. @john @alexandra it may well be that the different forms of venlafaxine-immediate release tablets and extended release capsules-are reported separately. It may have impact in outcomes depending on dose, frequency and duration of therapy.

  16. John’s comment about the generic and brand name of the same drug on here made me think. Maybe there is a psychological effect showing up here: that people are more confident in the brand name one (even if it is the same drug) and so it does better at lessening their depression.

  17. You might want to tell people that the severity of depression has not been controlled here. This means that Sertaline might have worked for someone with mild depression and art therapy might have worked for someone who was severely depressed, but there’s no guarantee that Sertaline would have worked for someone who was severely depressed or vice versa.

  18. Excellent point, Bob! We are working on subdividing conditions by severity to see how the treatment effectiveness profiles differ. Thanks for bringing that up!
    alex :)

  19. Where is sex on the list? What else has been medically proven to be good for your health and fitness, not to mention mental and psychological health. Prudes!

  20. I didn’t see fibromyalgia mentioned anywhere..I read a book by Dr Rodger Murphree who specializes in this dz and has found that most people w fibro are banckrupt in seritonin and this is why SSRI’s are not beneficial. With no or little seritonin, there is nothing to reuptake.

  21. I have been on Lamictal for 3 years and it’s amazing! I don’t have bipolar (which it’s often used for) and it’s been incredibly helpful, much more than SSRIs were. Also, spirituality has been great. Awesome list :)

  22. What about Rhodiola Rosea….it should be known as the cure for depression!

  23. Tried most of the list without any progress, except for Venlafaxin (Efexor). Not perfect at all, but it works better than the rest. Tried many anti-depressants before, only to get stuck in side effects like being suicidal. Hope it continues working this way!

  24. The only thing that came to mind here:

    “Yo mama’s research methodology is SO flawed…”

    Seriously though. The commenters here have already pointed out some major issues with this data set, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
    I smell MAJOR researcher and participant bias (possibly unintentional).

  25. the ‘add a side effect’ button malfunctions at the moment

    Those on – or have been on – Effexor xr I am sure would like to see withdrawal experiences listed as an option for feedback.
    It is by far one of the most challenging aspects of Effexor – I would hazard a guess that many who are on Effexor are simply continuing to be on it because they are too afraid of the withdrawal symptoms, not because they actually need it for the original condition.

    for example here is a list below of what I have experienced and I have noted on forums is common with others:
    brain ‘zaps’ electrical shocks that seems to travel across the frontal lobe left to right (these increase infrequency as withdrawal sets in)
    nausea to the point of vomiting
    severe vertigo (particularly if you move your eyes or shift your head too fast)
    anxiousness and feelings of dread
    restless legs
    sweating
    insomnia

    It would be great for this site to feature something in a survey form that allows people to give feedback on coming off meds like Effexor XR and indeed how they cope after ceasing therapy and similar.

    an addition to that is to feature what people have done to make it through ( I found forums which talked about that to be especially valuable) – for example under no circumstance would you try to go cold turkey with effexor xr or people taking the effexor capsule apart and taking out one grain at a time – to slowly reduce the dose. (that people do this gives you an idea of how horrible the effects are).

    Lastly to get the message out to Doctors who recommend effexor xr should know and tell their patients just how severe the withdrawals from this drug are.

    thanks very much for your site

  26. if alcohol is listed then i would like to see marijuana up there as well

  27. Alcohol in the short term helps but in the long term makes things a lot worse. Cannabis is far more helpful in my opinion.

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