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Depression Treatments That Don’t Have Side Effects

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The most common way of treating depression is with prescription antidepressant medications. There are many different types of antidepressants—each type works in a unique way to relieve symptoms. Although antidepressants provide relief for many patients, they are also associated with unpleasant side effects, like:

  • Nausea
  • Increased appetite that can lead to weight gain
  • Sexual side effects, like loss of sexual desire and erectile dysfunction 
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety (1) 

These side effects can become so bothersome that they interfere with daily life and may lead some patients to stop taking their medication, even if it means that depressive symptoms return and the patient relapses. To make things more complicated, nearly one-third of patients don’t see relief from depressive symptoms when using antidepressants. (2) 

Are there clinically-proven depression treatments that don’t have the adverse effects associated with antidepressants? The answer is yes, and we’ll share them with you here in this article.  

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Therapy

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy is an FDA-approved treatment that uses electromagnetic pulses to relieve depressive symptoms. (3) TMS offers many benefits to patients because it:

  • Is a noninvasive treatment (does not require a procedure)
  • Is a nonsystemic treatment (does not circulate throughout the bloodstream)
  • Does not require sedation of any kind
  • Allows patients to return to work immediately following a treatment session

But one of the most important benefits TMS offers to patients is that it is effective, and is not associated with any severe side effects. The most common complaint after a treatment session is a mild headache that lasts for a couple of hours. (4,5) Patients can find relief by taking an Advil or a Tylenol. 

Talk Therapy (Psychotherapy)

Talk therapy also referred to as psychotherapy, is also a common treatment for depression. One method, in particular, called cognitive behavioral therapy, has been shown in research studies to be as effective as antidepressants in treating depression. (6) Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a technique that focuses on restructuring an individual’s beliefs and the way he/she thinks to break negative thinking patterns that can lead to depressive symptoms. 

Talk therapy is effective for people with mild to moderate depression. Patients with severe depression are typically prescribed an accompanying treatment, like antidepressants or TMS.

Electro-convulsive stimulation (ECT)

Electro-convulsive stimulation (ECT) uses electrodes to induce a generalized seizure to reset certain brain functions associated with depression. ECT is performed under general anesthesia (the patient is completely asleep and unconscious) and patients are given a muscle relaxant, so they don’t feel the electrical pulses or convulse during the induced seizure. (7)

Although ECT does not have the same side effects that are associated with antidepressants, it does have its own unique side effects that include temporary loss of the ability to form new memories (this may last for weeks or months following ECT therapy). (7)

What About Alternative Treatments?

There are a few alternative methods that claim to relieve depressive symptoms without causing side effects, but they are not clinically proven. Some of these include:

  • Herbs like St. John’s Wort
  • Vitamins like folic acid
  • Exercise programs

As a psychiatrist that is concerned with offering my patients the very best in depression treatment, I do not recommend relying on any claim regarding a depression treatment that is not clinically proven.

Interested in Learning More About Depression Treatment Options in NYC?

If you’ve been diagnosed with depression and have not found relief with antidepressants, there are other treatment options available, like TMS. If you’re interested in learning more about TMS for depression treatment, visit our website. You can also learn more about TMS therapy success rates.


1. Coping with side effects of depression treatment. Web MD. Updated March 09, 2011. Link. Accessed November 08, 2019.

2. Ionescu DF, Rosenbaum JF, and Alpert JE. Pharmacological approaches to the challenge of treatment-resistant depression. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. 2015;17(2):111–126. Link. Accessed November 08, 2019.

3. Horvath JC, Mathews J, Demitrack MA, and Pascual-Leone A. The NeuroStar TMS device: conducting the FDA approved protocol for treatment of depression. Journal of Visualized Experiments. 2010 Nov 12;(45). Link. Accessed November 08, 2019.

4. Rossi S, Hallett M, Rossini PM, Pascual-Leone A, and The Safety of TMS Consensus Group. Safety, ethical considerations, and application guidelines for the use of transcranial magnetic stimulation in clinical practice and research. Clinical Neurophysiology. 2009;120(12):2008–2039. Link. Accessed November 08, 2019.

5. Transcranial magnetic stimulation. The Mayo Clinic. Updated Nov. 27, 2018. Link. Accessed November 08, 2019.

6. Yvette Brazier. CBT and antidepressants ‘equally effective’ for major depression. Medical News Today. Published February 09, 2016. Link. Accessed November 08, 2019.

7. Frequently asked questions about ECT. Johns Hopkins Medicine Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Publication Date Unavailable. Link. Accessed November 08, 2019.

Dr. David Woo

Dr. Woo has been seeing patients in private practice since 2002, always with the goals of combining evidence-based medicine with psychodynamic psychotherapy and collaborating with other mental health professionals to ensure the best possible outcomes for his patients. He has been certified to administer TMS at his practice since 2017. His greatest clinical interests include helping patients suffering from depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

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