Can you treat depression without medication?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Is depression treatable without medication?

Expert Answer

Senior Editor Melanie Haiken, who is responsible for's coverage of cancer, general health, and family finance, discovered how important it is to provide accurate, targeted, usable health information to people facing difficult decisions.

Yes, it's possible to treat depression without medication. Intensive talk-based therapy (psychotherapy or counseling) alone can help some individuals. Many professionals, including psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and other counselors, provide this kind of therapy. However, this process usually involves a lot of time and often is not fully reimbursed by insurance (including Medicare).

Research shows that a combination of antidepressant medication and talk therapy is often more effective than talk therapy alone. What's more, recurrence of depression after treatment is very common among older people, so it can be important to use a treatment strategy that can be continued, if needed, for months or even years. One 2006 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that elders who continued with medication after their depression symptoms had improved were less likely to relapse than those who continued treatment with just psychotherapy.

Despite recent research calling the effectiveness of some antidepressants into question, most have been shown to be effective in treating depression in many people.

That being said, studies have also shown that even after treatment with a full dose of antidepressant medication, many people with depression do not experience improvement. So it can be reasonable to try to treat depression with psychotherapy first, and then try medication if the talk therapy fails.