Young Adults’ Experiences of Depression in the U.S.

Holistic and integrative approaches to depression

In the United States, integrative or holistic approaches to addressing depression are common. Some people use these approaches on their own, while others do so in the context of seeking help from health care providers or other clinicians. Integrative approaches take into account many different parts of a person and his or her life rather than focusing on depression just by itself. Integrative or holistic approaches focus primarily on “healing” -- that is, improving overall well-being and focusing on spirit, mind, behaviors and community as well as the physical body. This is different from a focus on “curing” -- that is, eliminating disease with a targeted treatment*. 

Most people we interviewed talked about holistic approaches to healing or coping with depression. And the majority of those who tried these approaches found one or more specific strategies that helped.
Holistic mind and body approaches

Exercise, nutrition, supplements, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and acupuncture are all techniques for treating depression. Research supports several of these approaches with the best data showing benefit for exercise and mind-body therapeutic approaches*1,*2,*3. More information about these complementary health approaches and the evidence behind them can be found on the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website.

Young adults around the country that we talked to were trying these holistic approaches to address their depression. This was even more pronounced for people on the West Coast. Some people focused on training their minds and outlook in order to change their depression patterns. As Sara put it, “I did a lot of reading and that is what really got me to be able to control my brain by myself… I have control over my own thoughts. Nobody else does, I do. And realizing that helped a lot.” Others tried mindfulness classes or meditation in groups, or with a teacher one on one. Some used these techniques instead of medication, while others used them alongside medication.
A number of people focused on exercise and/or diet as a strategy for addressing their depression or preventing it from recurring. One person aptly summarized common experiences by noting “Any type of exercise feels great when you’re depressed, because it makes you feel less depressed afterwards.” Some people “… just sort of figured out what worked better” on their own, while others had doctors, therapists, teachers, or others help them. A few people talked about lack of self-motivation as a significant down side of “self-help” approaches of any kind (holistic or not). (See also ‘Depression and strategies for everyday life.’).
The arts and creativity

For many people, focusing on creative work is a crucial way to improve overall well-being and alleviate depression-related suffering. Making music or art, writing, or drawing on nature as a source of inspiration – these things were described over and over as relaxing; calming; a satisfying way to be expressive. Several people talked about art helping them “gain control of my feelings and reflect on things.” Ryan says his poetry, rap and music are healthy ways to put himself out there and maybe even be helpful to others. Meghan notes that her a cappella group in college provided an automatic community, which prevented her from being isolated and more depressed.

* Rakel, David. Integrative medicine. Elsevier Health Sciences, 2012.
*1 Cooney, Gary M., et al. "Exercise for depression." Cochrane Database Syst Rev 9.9 (2013).
*2 Crane, Catherine, et al. "The effects of amount of home meditation practice in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy on hazard of relapse to depression in the Staying Well after Depression Trial." Behaviour research and therapy 63 (2014): 17-24.
*3 Weitz, Erica S., et al. "Baseline depression severity as moderator of depression outcomes between cognitive behavioral therapy vs pharmacotherapy: an individual patient data meta-analysis." JAMA psychiatry 72.11 (2015): 1102-1109.

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