Treating Depression on the Cheap

Updated: Nov 21, 2015 04:50
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Depression is expensive. You eat junk food and order delivery because cooking and cleaning up sounds like slow torture. Your productivity falls off or you lose your job entirely. You miss obligations–everything feels like an obligation. You’re haunted by your elusive potential and the feeling that you’re letting everyone down.

Getting better isn’t cheap either. In terms of treatment, ‘new’ and ‘effective’ and ‘mild side-effects’ all translate to pricey and maybe not covered by insurance. Something worse than being depressed is being depressed with medical bills to pay.

But there is hope. Depression used to call for shock treatments, then it was Prozac™, now scientists are saying that some of the most effective treatments cost nothing and come without side-effects. Here are a few that might work for you.

A quick disclaimer: I am not a doctor, I don’t play one on the internet. If you’re struggling with depression, talk to your doctor, talk to someone. And, for fuck’s sake, if you’re thinking about harming yourself, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1 (800) 273-8255.

It gets better. Always.


Breathe in, breathe out. Most of us, depressed or not, live in a constant state of reaction and restlessness, or what Zen Buddhists call ‘monkey mind.’ Meditation tames the monkey. You learn to have painful moments without running from them and pleasant moments without clinging to them.

You don’t have to subscribe to any beliefs or spiritual principals in order to meditate. There are no side effects, and hard science backs it up. MRI scans have linked the benefits of meditation to structural changes in the brain. The American Medical Association found that meditation actually rivals pharmaceutical treatments for depression.

Researchers recommend mindfulness meditation. It’s easy to learn and completely free. Here’s an animated guide with talking animals to get you started.

Another great teacher is Tara Brach. For a more rigorous tutorial, try a ten day Vipassana course–those are free too.


Forget hot yoga, kick your depression old school with this Victorian era elixir. Cold showers actually save you money: no hot water and shorter showers.

The clinical name for it is ‘cold splash hydrotherapy.’ Studies have found that cold water on the skin reduces the stress hormone cortisol and helps balance serotonin–a neurotransmitter linked to depression. Like meditation, cold water therapy can be even more effective than SSRI anti-depressants .

To oversimplify, cold water makes you tougher. The little knocks of everyday life don’t bother you as much when you start your day with the adrenaline rush of a cold shower. It’s fucking primal.    

For more, watch the Vice Documentary on ‘the Iceman’ Wim Hoff.


Depression feels like an onslaught of critical choices you’re too tired to make. Having a predictable schedule can take some mental fatigue out of your day.

Are there dirty dishes in your sink? If so, stop reading this and do them.

Set the bar really low for your mornings; if you made your bed, this morning was a success.

It might help to set a time limit on social media. People talk about ‘Facebook depression.’ Trust me, it’s real. If you’re already down, watching other people share the highlights of their lives through the distortion of social media is never a good idea. Same goes for Netflix binges and the pretty people in internet porn.


Winston Churchill suffered from crippling depression in a time when self-medication was the only option. His treatment–along with three bottles of champagne a day–was painting. Churchill credited art with ‘keeping the black dog at bay.’

But you don’t have to be Winston Churchill or some other troubled genius. You don’t even have to be able to draw a straight line. All that matters is loosing yourself in the work. Art therapy is about learning to play again.

One drill, from The Art Therapy Sourcebook, recommends scribbling with your eyes closed to get over the feeling that you have to make a masterpiece.

Adult coloring books are good too, so are the kid’s ones for that matter. Also blank paper.


Newsflash, depressants tend to make you depressed. Uppers bring you down when they wear off.

If you can drink moderately, a drink or three will probably do your mood some good, have fun. However, if you are an alcoholic and/or addict, you need to sort that shit out or nothing you do for your depression is going to do much good.

As with depression, getting better starts with asking for help. There’s plenty of help out there if you want it. All those abstinence-based programs of recovery whose members wish to remain ‘Anonymous’ are free of charge.

Early sobriety sucks. Your depression may get a lot worse in the first ninety days, but it could disappear entirely after that. It may turn out that you were never clinically depressed, and it was just a symptom of your addiction. Just hang in there.

Here are some tips for dealing with the awkwardness of early sobriety .


The hard part isn’t finding someone to talk to; it’s starting the conversation.  Depression isolates, talking may be the last thing you want to do but it almost always helps.

It doesn’t have to be a therapist. So many people out there will lend an ear for free. There are support groups for depression, in person and online. Not to mention, strippers, bartenders, and grandparents.

The Berkley Free Clinic offers free counseling sessions , open to everyone.  Drop-in hours are from 6:30pm – 8:30pm, Monday-Friday.


Seriously, get off your ass. It’s so obvious I almost didn’t include this one. Depression hates to break a sweat. Outside magazine has more on the healing benefits of the outdoors.   



This might be the only one with side-effects. According to Psychology Today  journaling can become an excuse to observe your life rather than live it. They recommend focusing on potential solutions to your problems rather than wallowing in what went wrong and who’s to blame.

A lot of people do a gratitude log at the end of the day. In my experience, it’s great practice for being less of a selfish prick in real life.


People love this question: if you could chose not to have depression, to switch it off forever, would you?

My answer, without hesitation is, no. If I wasn’t depressed, I wouldn’t be me. I wouldn’t have my dark sense of humor, or my empathy for people who hurt a whole lot worse than I do. I’d be a stranger to the ones who love me and my moodiness.

This illness has saved me from law school and little league and honor roll and boring relationships with women who might make a less cynical man very happy. If you’re getting anything out of this article, it’s not because this writer is a scrubbed smiling winner. The world needs its depressives.

It’s like Johnny Cash sang:

‘I’d love to wear a rainbow every day

And tell the world that everything’s okay

But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back

Till things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black’


Leave your tips, tricks, and self-medications in the comments.   

Images: Disney, Tickld

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