Natural Alternatives for Depression When There Is No Pharmacy

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Depression impacts millions of Americans every year. Most of these people are taking some form of antidepressant. In an SHTF situation, pharmacies will not be available. This article will cover alternative ways to manage depression where prescription drugs are not an option.

What Is Depression?

If we are going to form a backup plan, we need to understand what depression is. Depression is more than just sadness and grief. According to

Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Fortunately, it is also treatable. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.

Depression symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include:

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Symptoms must last at least two weeks for a diagnosis of depression.

What Causes Depression?

Depression is a complex condition without a single, root cause. It used to be thought that depression was just a lack of certain chemicals, neurotransmitters, in the brain. According to Harvard Health Publishing, however, depression is caused by a combination of factors.

It’s often said that depression results from a chemical imbalance, but that figure of speech doesn’t capture how complex the disease is. Research suggests that depression doesn’t spring from simply having too much or too little of certain brain chemicals. Rather, there are many possible causes of depression, including faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications, and medical problems. It’s believed that several of these forces interact to bring on depression.

The article goes on to point out the importance of connective pathways, and not just the levels of the chemicals that travel them:

Popular lore has it that emotions reside in the heart. Science, though, tracks the seat of your emotions to the brain. Certain areas of the brain help regulate mood. Researchers believe that — more important than levels of specific brain chemicals — nerve cell connections, nerve cell growth, and the functioning of nerve circuits have a major impact on depression. Still, their understanding of the neurological underpinnings of mood is incomplete.

Other factors play a role as well. Genetic predisposition, hormonal shifts, diet, lifestyle habits, experiencing trauma and loss all can increase your risk of depression. Nutritional deficiencies, food sensitivities, and imbalances in gut bacteria are often ignored causes of depression.

Depression doesn’t discriminate either. People from all walks of life may develop depression. However, gender and financial security are two factors that increase the risks. Women are twice as likely to develop depression as men. Not surprisingly, people with more financial security experience less depression than those struggling to get by.

How Many People Have Depression in the US

According to the CDC, depression impacted 8.1% of Americans over a two-week period from 2013-2016. The US population in 2016 was 323.4 million, according to the US Census. This means, in 2016, there were almost 26.2 million people with depression in the US.

This is different, however, than the number of people taking anti-depressant drugs. Anti-depressants are prescribed for multiple conditions, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and generic “mood disorder” diagnoses.

According to Time Magazine, 13% of the population was prescribed anti-depressant medications in 2017. Given the US population in 2017 was 325.7 million people, 13% works out to be over 42.3 million people.

That’s 42.3 million people who will run out of medication post-SHTF that will need other options. Read that again.

The options discussed below will help for most people with mild to moderate depression. They won’t all work for all people, as every situation and every person is different. However, they may be able to make the situation less miserable.

However, considering that 30% of people who take anti-depressants do not actually feel better taking them, the following suggestions may be more helpful than one might think.

Types of Depression

There are different types of depression, as well as different levels of severity. There are 6 common types of depression in the US:

  1. Major Depressive Disorder
  2. Persistent Depressive Disorder- chronic, low-level depression lasting more than 2 years
  3. Bipolar Disorder
  4. Seasonal Depression
  5. Postpartum Depression
  6. Psychotic Depression

Each type is different and should be treated as such. What works for seasonal depression is not necessarily going to bring relief to someone with bipolar disorder. Depression can also be broken down into mild, moderate, and severe. What works for someone with mild depression may not help someone with severe depression.

Situations that Complicate or Exacerbate Depression

Certain conditions increase the risk or severity of depression. These can include (but are not limited to):

  • Family history of depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Being abused
  • PTSD and C-PTSD
  • Drug or alcohol abuse, aka “self-medicating”
  • Having a chronic illness, (ex. Diabetes, Fibromyalgia, Cancer, IBS)

If you find yourself or a loved one in one of these situations, address these to the best of your ability before an emergency. If your self-esteem is low or prior history of being abused is still bothering you, get help now while times are good. If you have a chronic illness, take what steps you can to reverse it and/or improve your overall health. These situations will only get worse post-SHTF, increasing the risk of depression.

Alternatives for Depression Management Post-SHTF

Understanding the factors triggering your own depression will help you sort out which strategy makes the most sense.


There isn’t a one size fits all diet to reverse depression. However, certain foods tend to make depression (and anxiety) worse. If you have food sensitivities, you may already know what I’m talking about.

Not all foods cause the same reaction in everyone. There are however, many foods that seem to trigger an inflammatory response. These include sugar, grains, dairy, and low-quality fats, especially trans fats.

Do eat more foods with protein, healthy fats, and lots of non-starchy vegetables for an anti-inflammatory diet. Lots of people follow the Mediterranean Diet for this reason. At the same time, we’re preppers. We like food options we can grow/harvest ourselves or store-bought with a long shelf life. Some suggestions are:

  • Wild meat or fish
  • Pastured meats
  • Canned sockeye salmon
  • Canned Herring
  • Canned Sardines
  • Canned oysters
  • Healthy fats, including coconut oil, olive oil, as well as butter, lard, or tallow from pastured animals (exposure to the sun will lead to Vit D in the fat)
  • Eggs
  • Dark, leafy greens
  • Canned Olives
  • Mushrooms
  • Nuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Berries (dehydrate them to make them shelf-stable)

Nutritional Deficiencies

Nutritional deficiencies can lead to depression symptoms. You wouldn’t know if that’s the case unless there is a good test available, or you try supplementation or seek out foods rich in that nutrient. Here are some nutrients whose deficiencies can lead to depression.

  • Magnesium
  • B Vitamins, especially B6, Niacin, Folate, and B12
  • Vitamin D
  • Zinc
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Limit High-Carbohydrate Foods

One reason why we love carbs so much is that they make us feel good, temporarily. High-carb foods are typically our “comfort foods”. Mashed potatoes, stuffing, cornbread, pizza, and cake give us a temporary high.

Something to keep in mind is that if you have insulin resistance, your cells are less able to absorb nutrients. You develop insulin resistance by eating too many sugary foods, causing your blood glucose to rise. The pancreas then produces insulin to bring blood glucose back down to a healthy level. However, the more frequent your blood glucose rises, the more insulin it will take to get the same glucose-lowering effect. You become resistant to insulin and require higher and higher amounts to do the same job.

High-carbohydrate foods, like potatoes, corn, sugar, and bread, can only boost your mood momentarily. The good mood will disappear the moment your blood sugar drops again. The more high-carbohydrate foods you eat, the more insulin your body makes to lower it, and the less able you are to absorb nutrients.

You can still eat carbohydrates. But, if you have insulin resistance, it’s better to have fewer of them and get them from non-starchy vegetables, or a cup of berries. Non-starchy vegetables and berries will not cause blood glucose to spike, making them a better choice than grains or starches.


Get Outside! On the whole, we spend far too much time indoors. We are missing out on necessary sunlight , green space, and healthy soil bacteria.

We make Vitamin D from sun exposure to our skin. Careful, daily sun exposure also helps to increase our melanin and tolerance to the sun. When we avoid the sun, we put ourselves at risk for a sunburn if we are ever caught without a coverup or sunblock lotion. What you want to avoid is getting a burn. A sunburn is a radiation burn, and that is what can raise your risk for skin cancer.

We need Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiencies are both very common in the US and easy to fix for free. Go outside. Get a little sun daily without burning. Easy peasy.

Green spaces are places like parks and forests that have, you guessed it, a lot of “green” to look at. Green spaces are associated with lower instances of depressive symptoms. Forest bathing is one way to experience green spaces to relieve depression.

The primary benefit that proponents assign to forest bathing is a reduction in stress levels. However, others go even further.

For instance, the authors of a 2017 review concluded that “forest therapy is an emerging and effective intervention for decreasing adults’ depression levels.” Other researchers have investigated whether forest bathing might also help prevent lung and heart disease.

Gardening is another way. Yes, you get time with plants and grow your own green leaves. But, you also get exposed to friendly bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae. Exposure to this bacteria leads to increased production of serotonin. Low serotonin levels are associated with depression.

Herbal Remedies

No discussion of alternatives for depression is complete without discussing herbal remedies. Some people will get huffy and state loudly that they tried herbal remedies and they didn’t work. As an herbalist, however, I have seen herbs work where nothing else has.

I find that those who decry herbal remedies for depression have either been using herbs which are old and have lost their potency, haven’t taken them long enough, didn’t take the right dosage, or some combination of all three.

In general, fresh is better. Grow your own or wildcraft your own herbs. Check out my book, Prepper’s Natural Medicine, for how to make quality herbal remedies at home.

St John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort is used regularly in Germany for both mild to moderate depression.  A recent German study found that St John’s Wort is effective for severe depression. St John’s Wort can interact with prescription medication, like other psych meds (SSRIs, MAOIs), birth control, blood thinners, and anticonvulsants. However, if you are in the middle of a post-SHTF scenario anticipated to last months or longer, you’re going to run out of those meds anyway. St John’s Wort should also not be taken along with processed meats.


Adaptogenic herbs are an entire class of herbs that help the body better respond to stress. Adaptogens are used by herbalists to interrupt the nasty cycle of chronic stress and to help the body recover from trauma. Adaptogens can be helpful in cases where the depression was triggered by a traumatic event.

There are many adaptogens, and it may take a little while to figure out which one or combination suits your needs best. Here are a few:

  • Rhodiola
  • Ashwagandha
  • Tulsi
  • American ginseng
  • Cordyceps
  • Schisandra berry
  • Turmeric

Calming Nervines

Other relaxing herbs can also be helpful. Many people with depression have difficulty falling asleep. Sleep deprivation makes depression symptoms worsen. The following herbs may help relieve your deep thoughts and worries before bed. It is important to re-establish your healthy circadian rhythm when recovering from depression.

  • Chamomile
  • Milky oat tops
  • Lemonbalm
  • California poppy
  • Valerian
  • Skullcap

I like to make a tea out of chamomile, milky oat tops, and lemon balm. Then, I add skullcap tincture to the hot tea. Skullcap helps me sleep when my brain is overthinking everything and just won’t quit.

Melatonin, with Caution

It is very important to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm while healing from depression. It is unwise to take melatonin on a regular basis to induce sleep, however. Overuse can lead to a dependence. When I had to reset my internal clock, I used the lowest possible dose and only for two nights. I had crazy, vivid dreams, but it was enough to get me back on a normal sleep schedule.

What do you think?

Depression is so multifaceted, and this is a lot to take in at once. This article only scratched the surface of what is possible for people with depression outside of prescription medication. There will be follow up articles to this. So, please, leave me any questions you want answered in future articles on depression post-SHTF in the comments section.

About Cat

Cat Ellis is an herbalist,  massage therapist, midwifery student, and urban homesteader from New England. She keeps bees, loves gardening and canning, and practice time at the range. She teaches herbal skills on her website, Herbal Prepper. Cat is a member of the American Herbalists Guild, and the author of two books, Prepper’s Natural Medicine and Prepping for a Pandemic.

Cat Ellis

Cat Ellis

Cat Ellis is an herbalist,  massage therapist, midwifery student, and urban homesteader from New England. She keeps bees, loves gardening and canning, and practice time at the range. She teaches herbal skills on her website, Herbal Prepper. Cat is a member of the American Herbalists Guild, and the author of two books, Prepper’s Natural Medicine and Prepping for a Pandemic.

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    • Oddly enough my husband hasn’t needed it in the winter since I started making St. John’s Wort tincture! However–it’s fairly easy to keep on hand. Look for St. John’s Wort to flower around midsummer (St. John’s Day is June 24, I think) . On a sunny day (yes, it matters!) collect enough flowering tops to fill a jar–don’t worry about stems and a few leaves, they can go in, too–but shake off any insects, maybe even lay it all out on a tray for an hour or so to let them crawl/fly away. Once the jar is full, fill it up with vodka, and shake or poke a chopstick around to get rid of air bubbles; top up with a little more vodka if necessary. Put the jar in a dark place for a month or so, shaking the jar occasionally. By that time, the flowers will be faded and the liquid will be reddish. Strain, bottle, and label. Take 1/2 to 1 teaspoon 3x/day. As noted, don’t take if on other meds without checking with a doctor.

      You can also make an infused oil. Collect as above, but instead of vodka, pour in extra virgin olive oil, and be sure to use a clear glass jar, because this time it will be placed in a sunny windowsill for a month. You may need to stir occasionally to make sure all the flower tops are still submerged. The oil should turn red. Strain, bottle, and label. Rub on externally for nearly any aches (backache, sciatica, muscles, etc.), also to help heal wounds.

      And, you can make a St. John’s Wort pillow as a sleep aid, especially for problems with nightmares or fear of the dark. Collect tops as above, and dry in the shade. Strip the leaves and flowers off the stems (which can be composted). Fill a small cloth bag with the dried flowers and leaves, stitch or tie the open end shut, and place the bag under your pillow.

      • Very interesting, Rhonda! I’m always looking to increase my knowledge of herbal remedies. Tinctures and poultices are always of particular interest to me.

        Thank you.

  • My wife suffered from chronic anxiety and depression until she went on a no-carb keto diet.

    years of SSRIs and other antidepressants never achieved any positive results, leaving her feeling ‘null and void’.

    within two weeks of starting keto, her gloom lifted and she has been a different person ever since. she kicked antidepressants and after a rough period of withdrawals, she is prescription free.

    I would recommend no-carb keto to anyone who is struggling with depression and anxiety.

    • Did your wife go zero carb? How does that work, nutritionally?

      I have been eating low-carb and healthy carb, and I feel great, but I don’t think anyone could function without any carbs at all.

      We just picked up some St Johns Wort seed, and plan to start them in the Spring. My hubs uses SJW caps (Gaia brand) daily, and it keeps him steady and positive.

      It’s impossible to overstate the importance of healthy diet, outdoor movement/exercise, and good sleep hygiene.

  • Thank you for addressing this subject. I knew my preps were lacking in this area and will mitigate the deficiencies ASAP.

  • she’s not zero carb, but _dramatically_ reduced. I don’t think it’s possible to be completely zero carb in the modern age.

    she has tested this out by eating something like french fries, and noting the effect the next day after.

    she developed celiac disease within six months of moving from europe to the USA.

    over there she could eat bread without ill effect, but something here (glyphosate?) made her very sick.

    she was hospitalized, and celiac was finally diagnosed, after years of misdiagnosis and mis-treatment.

    she got me doing organic then years ago.

    once i cut out most carbs, I also noticed dramatic reduction of joint aches and overall fatigue. I really feel like I gained 15 years (I’m 60) by foregoing carbs.

    I did a 55 mile bike ride last month – it kicked my ass but I finished and felt fine the next day.

    carbs are a killer: sugar, bread, pasta – give it up folks, you won’t even miss it.

  • certain prescriptions shouldn’t be taken with herbs, as a heart attack prior, my concern has been having the blood pressure meds at a SHTF situation, hopefully that will not be needed soon, though my heart doc will let me know, never stop taking them w/o doc approval. I am interested in the skullcap, never heard of it, and will look for more information about it, bc my mind doesn’t sleep at night. I have never tried Melatonin, nor do I want too. I have had to change heartburn OTC pills, not ready to try the new ones yet, still have the recalled ones, would like to find herbs for heartburn too. Thank you for the article information!

  • HA HA! LOL!

    Didn’t even have to read the article to comment on this one!

    You want an all natural CURE for depression?

    MARIJUANA! High potency Skunk Diesel will knock that sh!t (depression) on it’s ass!

    Grow it yourself. Tell no one. Mellow out for FREE. Use as needed. ZERO chance of overdose. Side effects? Happiness, hunger, drowsiness. Don’t smoke? Make brownies!

    God made all things, and all things He made are good. He gave us every plant and herb for our benefit as a blessing. You got physical pain? Mental anguish? Sexual malaise? This WILL set you straight!

    Somebody had to say it. I’d be honored to be the first…I’m not, but I’m proud to pass on what I’ve learned. You could feel virtually suicidal, and partake of this and gain perspective of reality. Nothing is worth that.

    I also believe that magic mushrooms are beneficial in working through extreme psychic trauma (involuntary abuse of all stripes). Milder than peyote without the nausea. No long term therapy required. One or two doses and you’ve worked through all your issues and ready to move on with your life. No dependency issues at all.

    This is offered as personal opinion and not to be taken as medical advice. Let your conscience be your guide.

  • After the birth of my second child, I had really bad post partum depression, which then developed into bi-polar disorder, or manic-depressive, except I lived in the depressive phase most of the time. After a few years of doctors not really knowing how to treat it with anything other than tranquilizers, I started doing my own research looking for a cure. I found two things that really changed my life. First, I had read about some studies giving people extra doses of potassium, with fantastic results. BUT, potassium is cheap, and big pharma can’t make any money on it, so they discarded that idea. Well, I DIDN’T. I pay great attention to my body and know when things do not work and when things improve. So, I started taking potassium supplements, and can tell when I should take more, and when I should take less.

    The second thing I discovered, was a book that teaches you how to put the lie to the thoughts in your head. Somehow, I had started thinking that nothing I did was ever good enough. I was too fat, I was not smart, I was not a good enough mother, I was weak because I couldn’t stop smoking, NOTHING i did was good enough. Well, his book teaches you how to put the lie to those kind of thoughts which are contributing to your depression, and replace them with proper thoughts, ones that will make you feel better. This book literally saved my life. It was very hard work, not a miracle cure, because you have to be honest with yourself. But man, the payoff to all that hard work is priceless!! The name of the book was “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy” by, I believe his name was Dr. David Burns. I know it is decades old now, because I read it in the 80’s, but I believe it is still relevant, and worth your time if you suffer from depression.

    My husband stuck it out with me, and we have been married for 39 years, not *always* happy, but generally are, we are the best of friends, and I still love him with all my heart.

  • I think alcohol consumption in any quantity could worsen depression. Alcohol is a depressant on its own. Cutting out alcohol except for once-a-year occasions would likely be a benefit.

  • On his TV shows, Dr. Daniel Amen said that hypothyrodism, depression and dementia can be caused by head injuries. Dementia has many causes. However, he said that what appears to be dementia can actually be untreated depression, hypothyroidism, and/or Vitamin B12 deficiency.

    Dr. Amen said the brain is about the texture of soft butter. There is increasing awareness that even mild head injuries can cause lasting brain damage. For example, Dr. Amen described the case of one of his patients who struggled with lifelong depression. Turns out the patient had a fall as a child that caused permanent brain damage. Treatment for brain damage resolved his depression.

    Although hyperbaric oxygen treatment can repair brain damage, the cost is prohibitive.
    Studies have shown that red light therapy works on traumatic brain injury. Red Light Therapy is a cheaper alternative that can be done at home. Check out this guide for dosages: See: and

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