How I’m successfully managing my mental health without antidepressants

Tips on managing depression without medication | Honest MomPeople are often scared to take antidepressants (SSRIs) for depression, even when a doctor recommends it. And I understand why. I was in the same boat back in college, and I opted not to take anything for the depression and anxiety I was dealing with then. I got by. Barely. And then I eventually got better, so in the end, it all worked out.

But then when I got postpartum depression after having my second child, not taking antidepressants wasn’t an option. I had to. And I was definitely scared about it – but Zoloft plus therapy worked well and made me feel like me again.

I’ve had my ups and downs with SSRIs since then. Two years ago I went off them for a period of time because I was tired of the side effects. For a long time they were unnoticeable or very mild, but then they got slowly got worse. I was fuzzy and tired. I felt like I was in a fog and had trouble sleeping, which only made things worse. I was also tired of dealing with the “poop-out” effect of an SSRI losing its effectiveness and having to try a new one because a higher dose would bring on worse side effects.

So I went off antidepressants. And I only lasted five months. The depression got too bad for me to handle with just trying to eat well, sleep, and exercise. I needed more help, so back on the meds I went. And I started going through the cycle again of feeling like myself, then the SSRI losing effectiveness, then trying to increase the low dose I was on but then having bad side effects, and then onto the next med. I was frustrated and not sure what to do.

Then this past May I got really, really sick. After countless doctors and blood tests and brain scans, no one could figure out what was wrong with me. Several doctors recommended that I go off Luvox, the SSRI I was taking, to clear out my system and “reset,” so I did. Four months later, I’m on no medication and almost totally better physically – but my brain is still taking its time to get back to normal. I’m definitely getting better day by day, though, which is encouraging.

Honestly, I’m pretty terrified to take an SSRI ever again because while no one ever figured out why I got so sick, Hubs and I strongly suspect (after doing a good deal of research), that I had a massive, rare reaction to the Luvox. We also wonder if, after being on SSRIs for almost six years, that maybe my brain had just had enough.

So how am I managing my mental health without medication – and doing a lot better this time around? Here’s my strategy so far:

1) The basics: I (try to) eat well, sleep, exercise. I’m not doing really great at these things all the time. Especially since the start of the school year. I have gone gluten-free, which has helped my digestive problems tremendously. Who knows if it’s helping my mental health, but I have a hunch it is. And going gluten-free has also improved my eating habits.

I’m working at the exercise thing and the sleeping more thing. It’s a process. But I’m determined to get there. And when I do accomplish the trifecta of eating well, sleeping, and exercising, I do feel a lot better. It’s basic stuff, but it’s super important.

2) I started taking SAM-e. This is a supplement recommended by my therapist. SAM-e forms naturally in the body when an amino acid called methionine combines with the energy-producing molecule ATP. It can also be made in a lab, and that’s how the supplement is created.

I was definitely skeptical – I’ve never dabbled in supplements before – but after researching it and finding that SAM-e has been prescribed for managing depression in Europe for years, and that there have been many credible studies on it, I thought – why not? And honestly, SAM-e has been life-changing for me.

I started with 200mg in the AM and 200 around lunchtime, as the SAM-e package recommended. I now take 400mg 2x a day because my stress level has been higher, but plan to go back to the 200mg dosage soon. I feel like the 400mg has made me a little jittery, which I read can happen if you take more than your body needs. Other than that, side effects are uncommon.

If you’re curious, you can read about SAM-e on the Mayo Clinic website, on the National Institutes of Health website, or on the NYU Med Center site. I get my SAM-e from Amazon– I’ve found it’s the best price and the brand I use is highly recommended. If you are thinking you might want to try SAM-e, note that it is not recommended if anxiety is your main symptom or if you are bi-polar.

Why isn’t SAM-e used more in the USA? My hunch is that powerful drug companies don’t want us to know about it because then we won’t buy their meds. There have been studies on SAM-e and depression (including a promising study at Harvard) and I hope more will be done. I urge you to Google SAM-e. You’ll see there is a lot of great info about it from credible sources.

3) I started using Natural Calm. This is another supplement, and yes, I was skeptical about this too. “Supplements” sound like New-Age, wishy-washy stuff. Or things muscly meatheads use. But a lot of my very normal, non-meathead friends use Natural Calm, so once again I researched it, found it was safe, and said – well, what the heck? And once again, I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

Natural Calm is simply a magnesium supplement. The theory is that it helps restore healthy magnesium levels and increases calcium intake to encourage natural stress relief and ease irritability. It also gets your digestive system moving, which I figure is a great thing given all the talk of the connection between the gut, the brain, and depression. If you’re interested you can read this Psychology Today article about why magnesium is important for the brain.

I get the raspberry-lemon flavor of Natural Calm from Amazon and mix it with a glass of ice water with a bit of lemonade mixed in. I drink it about a half hour before my most stressful part of the day begins, which for me is when my kids come home from school and chaos ensues with homework, activities, dinner, etc. And the Natural Calm works. It doesn’t make me feel weird or fuzzy or anything at all. I just am the regular, normal, calm version of myself and the stress and chaos of 3:45pm – 8:00pm is way more manageable.

I’ve been really surprised at how well I’ve been doing off antidepressants. I’ll be honest, I’ve had some bad days, but I am still not getting enough sleep or exercise, and I’ve been playing with the timing and dosages of the supplements I’ve been taking. I bet when I do figure out the right balance in the coming weeks, I’m going to feel downright amazing.

Also – I want to emphasize that I haven’t been paid by a maker of SAM-e or by Natural Calm for this post. This is just me telling you about my experience because I hope maybe it could help you, too.

If you do want to try SAM-e or Natural Calm and you click on my Amazon links, I could get commission through the Amazon affiliate program for anything you buy while you shop. But that’s just a side bonus of blogging. 🙂

And definitely talk to your doctor before embarking on any new therapies, including SAM-e or Natural Calm. You need to be sure it’s right for you and your own health situation. I deal with moderate depression and mild anxiety, and I would guess if you deal with severe depression, you would likely need SSRIs. But again, talk to your doctor.

What do you think about supplements for managing mental health? Have you tried to manage depression/anxiety without traditional medication? Did it work, or did you find you needed traditional medication?

photo credit: blmiers2 via photopin cc

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23 Replies to “How I’m successfully managing my mental health without antidepressants”

  1. I lost my job a year ago and had to make the financial decision to stop my SSRI’s. It has been a struggle, but oddly I feel better about being able to truly feel my emotions. I no longer feel like I’m in this pharmaceutical haze. That said, I still struggle daily with anxiety and get bouts of debilitating depression that cripple me. Thank you for sharing your story and for the supplemental suggestions.

    1. The part in the article where she wrote “Hubs” made me cringe.

      Anti-depressants are deadly. I’ve known 3 people with multiple suicide attempts while on anti-depressants. It also robs your clarity, robs your sexuality, each pill stays in your system/affects your mind for at least 30 days or more, and Big Pharmacutical is getting INSANELY wealthy off of all your suffering.

      Anti-depressants are at best, a Band-Aid on a broken arm, ignoring the real problems beneath. If you are depressed like me, there are life-reasons for it. In that regard, taking drugs to bury your pain/sadness is the same whether it’s from a pharmacy, a liquor store, or a dealer.

      Face the facts: life is long and painful. Don’t pass the suffering on to another generation of innocents. Spare them what we suffer. DO NOT HAVE CHILDREN!!!

      1. Also, I’d like to sincerely thank the courageous author, all of us brave enough to post, and wish us all the very best in each of our lives. Thank you.

  2. These are great tips! I wish you were around in 2001 after the birth of my first child. I have a suspicion too that SSRIs do build up in the system and have some nasty side effects. I have seen this with two friends. And for some people getting off of them is also a hard experience with the resulting side effects. Some one I know couldn’t turn her head to the side for like a month while she was detoxing from the drug. Not good. And gluten has been shown to interact with the chemicals in the brain so for some people it really does make a HUGE difference to go gluten free. Thanks for your information and honesty!

  3. Thank you for sharing this. I loved your description of the SSRI-poop-out merry-go-round. I have been on that merry-go-round for 23 years, and I have been weaning off Effexor for almost a year now, because I’m starting to get a little nagging idea that SSRIs don’t work in the long-term. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I want to see what I’m like when I’m NOT on an SSRI. I’ve been coping with the help of clean eating, exercise, therapy, and supplements.

  4. I’m too hesitant to deal with life *without* SSRIs. I don’t know if I’m just lucky that I don’t feel any negative side effects or if the good outweighs the bad for me. I feel like the meds keeps me even enough to recognize my symptoms and work through them…. most of the time…

    All that being said, I think each of us is unique and whatever works best, do it.

    (I’m so sorry you had some a horrible reaction!!!)

  5. Thanks SO much for sharing this. Have been wanting to dial back on/go off of my meds for a while for the same reason (side effects) but have been too afraid. This gives me hope.

  6. I’ve been taking SSRIs for over two years now, and I personally haven’t had any bad side effects. So sorry you were! That has to suck.

    I hope one day to not need my medicine anymore, but it’s not time yet. Even if I forget one pill, I’m a mess. I guess that means it’s definitely not time for me to go off of them. I’m glad you’ve found something that works for you!

  7. great article JD, Thanks for writing it! Most things you say could have come right out of my mouth. I am now off of the Zoloft I was taking. I am not sure if I like the me off of it, though. Trying to begin to work through some issues I know are holding me captive. Gosh thinking of it, I’ve probably been taking an RX for about 20 years. First prescribed for PMDD. I know depression is brain and chemistry related. But as of late, I also know (for me) SSRI’s can’t be the only answer. yeah therapy will help but I don’t have money for therapy. I also know I am not mastering the trifecta of the 3 basics and that would probably a good place to start. But it is such a vicious cycle. I have an appt on Monday with the dr. and I really didn’t want her to say-here take this one or start up again at a different dose. I do feel the negative effects of building up and decreasing of the meds. I do not want to go through that again. Trying to figure out what my normal is and go from there. I was beginning to think, maybe I am just a cranky, non motivated, negative person. But I don’t think that who i am supposed to be or who I once was. Am I like this because I find life hard, and not necessarily played out as I hoped or planned? Or because I have issues from childhood and later years I’ve never dealt with? Is it really depression or am I just a bitch who can’t handle crap? I dont know yet. But your post gives me hope that there really are other things I can use beside SSRI’s while I try to figure it out! You mentioned you have moderate depression and mild anxiety. I would agree the levels are the same for me-with possible episodes of severe depressive symptoms. An opinion question I have for all of you-do you find irritability to a problem for you? I hate to feel like I hate-but sometimes thats what it is. Are there those of you that are generally happy with your ‘life’, but still find yourself highly irritable? I am trying to figure out what my symptoms are about so I can figure another way to handle them. Of course taking Xanax helps, But Im not sure that really fixes anything. And I find after it wears off I am sometimes more irritable. It isnt even my prescription so thats stupid, I know. And I dont want a RX for it anyway. That would just be another thing to worry about managing. If you have read this far, thanks for letting me ramble on! And thank you again for your honesty!!

  8. I’m bookmarking this. I’ve been through a similar experience, especially with meds that quit working for me. At the moment I’m not on anything (haven’t been for quite some time) and failing miserably. I’m tired of going on something new and waiting to find out if it’s working, only to find out it’s not working and to then start the cycle all over again! In my quest to try to help myself I bought St John’s Wort to try and am so foggy I can’t remember to take it. It’s good to hear that you are doing well off the meds. I hope I can get there someday!

  9. Thanks so much for your honest (as always) feedback! I am in a similar boat, I was on anti-depressants years ago and never found one that worked well for me. The best one just made me feel numb, and the side effects weren't worth that. I will definitely talk to my doctor about those supplements. They will be better than starting the cycle of prescriptions gain. I have hypothyroid and that throws a monkey wrench into everything. I also had my blood checked, FYI, and was very deficient in Vitamin D. That might be a good place for people to start, while checking w/their doctors about supplements. Thanks again, JD. I appreciate it!

  10. I think your advice here is spot on, and I am going right now (after I share this post, of course) to check out Natural Calm. I had to go off of them as well and there are times when I could really use something, but don’t want a true medication. I do think that for me personally sleep is huge. When I am getting enough I feel better.-Ashley

  11. I'm glad this is working for you. I can understand the hesitance to start taking anything again. I've been managing w/o meds since before conceiving my second child – it's been over two years now, which is the longest I've gone without taking anything in my adult life. I feel like I'm really on the edge of needing something but I'm still breastfeeding and also I like not having the side effects. I really should at least be taking a multivitamin, but just haven't been able to handle much self care lately. Also, it would REALLY help if the baby would sleep at night!

  12. JD, so great to hear about your experience with these products. I am not familiar with Sam-e, but I am going to look it up. And thanks for reminding me about Natural Calm. I used to use this product, and then stopped–and I don’t even remember why. It was wonderful. It gives me hope that you are finding success with alternative methods. I would so like to go off my medication at some point, and reading this makes me believe it’s doable! Thank you!

  13. I just went off all my meds recently. It's been an interesting ride. I was so shamed by a pharmacist that I decided to ween myself off. I did a lot of research and did it properly however I should have consulted my doctor. I'm doing okay. I cry a lot more than I have for the past 10 years…and I hear you about the higher doses, the side effects etc. I have yet to try supplements but am considering it for particular seasons. Coming up on anniversary of Dr. Evil and life support and all that – not sure how that's going to go med free for me but I'm going to tackle it one day ..or one hour at a time.

    Good for you!! I love how honest and open you are. Make sure and be kind with yourself and do what YOU need to do!!! Have a fabulous weekend.

  14. Love this post. I use Natural Calm for my boys, 12 & 9. It helps them settle before bedtime and regulate bowel function. I've used it a few times, abd you've reminded me it was calming to drink in the evening before bed. I may actually try an afternoon dose, also a stressful time. I too had PPD/A and cannot go without meds. I've tried. I'm glad to hear you're able to. Every body is different.

  15. I’m so glad you found something that worked for you. I know how frustrating it is to have to take an SSRI because the depression/anxiety is so severe, when all you want is to be able to combat the crap without medication. We are all so different though and some of us NEED meds. What works for one, doesn’t always work for another. It’s a delicate balance that is so very individual.

  16. Thanks for all the great info. I want to check out that Psychology Today article. I’m so glad the supplements are working for you, and I’m considering giving them a shot. I’m still on an SSRI but I have no idea if it’s even effective anymore b/c I’ve been on it so long. I been very stable but is that just me now or the meds, you know? And, I’d like to take something natural if I can.

  17. I think it is great that you were willing to share such a private things on your blog. Your generosity in sharing will no doubt help others along the way. I am in the field of clinical psychology. I am no opposed to medication when it is appropriate. My opinion is that it is over prescribed and often by those who do not have the background to do so – just my two cents though. I think it is great that you have found supplements to help you feel better. I use herbs as well and I find that doing cardio helps tremendously! I have a child with serious health issues so I am always doing research on alternatives for him. There are some great alternatives out there and thanks to the naturopathic docs out there – we have options! Thanks again for sharing 🙂

  18. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences with your readers and I wish you the best. Depression effects everyone differently and I find myself finding solace in reading about the illness, how other people cope with it, treatment options, etc. I want to recommend to you a book series entitled “Healing the Mind and Body” by Dr. Paul D. Corona ( I have been making my way through many different mental health books over the years and this one was recommend by a friend, and it was a very interesting read. Often I find myself overwhelmed with information provided in these kinds of books, but Dr. Corona writes in a way that the content can be fully absorbed and understood by an average reader (not difficult medical jargon like many of the others). 1 in 4 people suffer from some sort of mental health issue in the US and I think we can all cope a little better if we use resources such as this to understand the new and emerging treatments available to us. Hope you will give it a read and I wish you the very best

  19. Thank you for this post. I’m really glad I found this. I’ve been struggling to get off meds a couple of times. everytime I did,I would be okay the first few weeks and then would go down the hill. I recently got off prozac , felt pretty good for pprox 2 months…but then uni started and felt a bit anxious that I wasnt feeling motivated and wasnt feeling quite myself. due to the horrible experiences ive been through when anxity and depression hit I opted to go back on medication. I’ve been trying to go off it fo 3 years now..(but have been taking them for maybe 5 or 6) because my husband and I were TTC and also I didnt like the idea of being dependant on meds. My problem is having that urge to go back on medication whenever I feel off…and Ive also felt that after taking the medication for a while,its like I have this NEW standard of NORMAL…so maybe being off them,even if i feel off but still okay, I wouldnt feel normal. hhhh just had to let all this out.. Ive always wondered if someone was struggling as I am or has..thanks again

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