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10 best depression treatments revealed in new book by Graeme Cowan

In preparing his new book, Back From The Brink: true stories and practical help for overcoming depression and bipolar, Graeme Cowan asked 4064 people who had lived with depression or bipolar, what worked best in their recovery.

His survey included most commonly used medications and psychological techniques, but also included a number of lifestyle strategies - 60 options in total.

These were the top 10 (the highest rating medication came in at number 23):

  1. Emotional support from psychiatrist and/or psychologist – Interestingly, the reassurance and support from mental health professionals was rated more important than the specific treatment they provided. If you don’t sense your professional cares about you and your recovery, Cowan recommends finding another.

  2. Peer support groups -  These groups are run by people who have all lived with depression, bipolar, or anxiety. The members are at different stages of recovery, and encourage each other to take small steps each week that assist in recovery.

  3. Moderate and vigorous exercise – Moderate (30 minutes brisk walk 4-6 days per week or equivalent) and vigorous (running for 30 minutes 4-6 days per week or equivalent) were both rated as highly effective for recovery.

  4. Other psychotherapy - involving a process whereby the therapist helps you explore and resolve issues related to past experiences and/or your personality style.

  5. Fulfilling work - paid or voluntary - This surprising finding reinforces a study by the Gallup organisation, that work is essential to our wellbeing. It also highlights how important it is for someone on stress leave to return to work ASAP.

  6. Counselling - not about exploring unresolved themes; a practical process, in which the counsellor may take an educational approach, and involves you and the counsellor discussing strategies for dealing better with day-to-day life.

  7. Emotional support from family and friends – Even though loved ones often feel that they are pushed away by the depressed person, Cowan says this result highlights how essential their compassion and care are.

  8. A good night’s sleep – one of the common symptoms of depression is early wakening or a disturbance to normal sleep patterns. This result shows that depressed people should seek professional help to address this.

  9. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)—focuses on changing negative thought patterns and usually involves doing structured homework tasks, and is normally taught by a psychologist.

  10. Reducing intake of alcohol and other non-prescription drugs – Many people with depression self-medicate with alcohol and other illicit drugs, to alleviate symptoms. Ironically, whilst there can be short term relief; ultimately excessive consumption of these drugs is unhelpful.

A free chapter from Cowan’s book which shows the full results of the research, plus the opportunity to enrol in a 30 Day Mood Boost Challenge which includes daily insights from this research, can be accessed from

Cowan began this research because between 2000-2005, he went through the worst episode of depression his psychiatrist had ever treated. During that period he had four suicide attempts, tried 23 different medications, underwent ECT (shock therapy) on 20 occasions, tried transcranial magnetic stimulation, engaged in cognitive behavioural therapy, and participated in many other conventional programs for the treatment of depression.  After a long path to recovery, he was left feeling that the traditional medical approach to depression was incomplete, especially when the default treatment has become the prescribing of anti-depressants. 


How to Finally Get A Good Night’s Sleep Even When You are Depressed

Depression both causes and is compounded by sleep disruption. The low energy caused by sleep deprivation also impacts on your ability to treat depression. How on earth can you make and attend appointments with experts, exercise or eat properly when you are perpetually exhausted? Find out how to finally get a good night's sleep.

Click to read more ...


Antidepressants… Is That All You’ve Got?

Antidepressants do have their place in treating depression.

But new evidence indicates a worrying trend: Antidepressants – which interfere with your brain chemistry – are increasingly a first resort and being prescribed at an ever-increasing rate.

The revelations come in the recently published OECD publication ‘Health at a Glance’ and show that the consumption of antidepressants has increased significantly in most countries surveyed since 2000. In 2008 in Iceland, for example, almost 30% of women aged 65 and over had an antidepressant prescription.

The report points out that one explanation includes the extension of indicators of some antidepressants to milder forms of depression, generalised anxiety disorders or social phobia.

Further, prescriptions for antidepressants have jumped 20% in five years in Spain and Portugal, which have been badly affected by the global economic crisis, another possible explanation for the exponential increase.

However, separate research indicates that global rates of depression have not increased in step, although depression is being diagnosed more in certain countries.

But in the main, it appears that antidepressants are being prescribed more frequently, but for more mild conditions which didn’t previously extend to warranting antidepressant treatments. Is this really appropriate when antidepressants can have a powerful effect on the body chemistry?

Now, if antidepressants always worked all the time, with no side effects, this wouldn’t be a problem.

But antidepressants don’t work all the time and do carry the risk of side effects – in fact they can even make some people suicidal.

In short: anti-depressants are not a magic pill ­– they form part of, but are not in their entirety, a depression treatment plan.

Alastair Campbell, for example, has tried several antidepressants over the years and is slowly tapering off them. But he uses other strategies for managing his mood, such as exercise.

As I point out in Back From The Brink, depression funding and research is often focused on investment-returning efforts i.e. pharmaceuticals. Slowly but surely, research into the efficacy of other strategies and therapies is gaining pace, but for many doctors – and indeed uninformed patients – antidepressants are often the first thing tried.


What are the benefits of a holistic approach to treating depression?

A holistic approach to treating depression incorporates lifestyle changes as part of a treatment plan that incorporates, but neither excludes nor overly relies on, medication.

A holistic treatment plan can be low-cost (often free) and can be extended and incorporated into a healthier, more positive and fulfilling lifestyle to help thrive, not just beat the immediate episode of depression and survive.

Everyone I interview in Back From The Brink uses and benefits from a holistic treatment plan. Whether it’s Greg Montgomery’s integration of mindfulness and gratitude practice into his daily life, Tricia’s fanatical devotion to exercise or Bob Boorstin’s self-monitoring and changing his relationship with the illness, they don’t simply pop a pill and pin their hopes of getting through on a little capsule alone.


How Do You Get Started in Treating Depression Holistically?

The first step is to assess your mood using the moodometer (link to article). There’s no point taking antidepressants if, in reality, you’re a 4 or above on the scale!

Once you’ve worked out your mood, you can take informed action and put together a holistic treatment plan, using the book, the strategies contained within and the stories for inspiration and encouragement.

I also recommend that you sign up for the FREE 30 Day Mood Boost Program on

Based on interviewing 4000+ people that who have learned to beat or manage their depression or bipolar, the FREE Challenge provides you a series of daily e-mails which help you build and maintain your resilience and a positive mood.

You won’t bring about lasting and positive change to your mood overnight. Instead, each e-mail in the Challenge focuses on one small, manageable, and measurable thing you can do each day to feel better.

The e-mails contain practical tips, real-life examples, and optimistic encouragement to inspire you to take realistic action.

Structured and logical, the 30 Day Mood Boost Challenge builds on each day’s progress and gradually introduces positive improvements you can make in all areas of your life, from working out your current mood, getting expert help, changing your diet and physical activity, to improving your support from family and friends.

I hope you find them useful, and if you’re interested you can sign up at


 Graeme Cowan’s book Back From The Brink, brings you true stories from well-known and everyday people, and practical help for overcoming depression and bipolar disorder. Touching, moving and often surprising, the stories in Back From The Brink are living proof that you too can overcome depression, using the tools and resources provided in the book.

Cowan survived the worst depression his psychiatrist had ever treated. Click here to find out more. 



3 Ways To Beat Depression Through Exercise In 2014

Exercise helps beat depression – that’s not just a theory, but scientific fact.

But many people think exercise involves gruelling workouts or exhausting runs.

Sure, for Alasdair Campbell and Tricia Goddard – interviewed in Back From The Brink – cross-country runs and marathons are an important part of their wellbeing plan and help ward off depression or manage it better if and when it strikes.

But that doesn’t mean the benefits of exercise on beating or preventing depression necessitate you sign up for the next Ironman competition. After all, mustering up the energy to even get out of bed during our worst moments can be a real struggle.

You’re not alone. Nearly everyone I have spoken to has experienced supreme difficulty exercising while depressed – although not one of these people ever reported feeling worse after a walk.


Exercise need not be intensive or exhausting

A study by Dr Andrea Dunn found that patients who did the equivalent of 35 minutes’ walking, six days per week, experienced a reduction in their level of depression by 47%.  This study, conducted at the Cooper Research Institute in Dallas, Texas, shows that as little as three hours of regular exercise a week reduces the symptoms of mild to moderate depression as effectively as Prozac and other antidepressants.

In addition, the proven benefits of exercise in treating or preventing depression extend to even moderate physical activity, such as gardening.

Aerobic exercise, in particular, improves blood flow and oxygen to the brain. It has the added benefit of releasing endorphins (natural feel-good chemicals) into the body.

Moderate physical activity produces risk-free benefits for people with depression. Unlike medication, there are no detrimental side-effects.


3 Forms of Exercise That Aren’t Really Exercise

The message is clear: start moving! So let’s start 2014 with a new perspective and ideas for beating depression through exercise.


1.       Meet with a friend for a walk.

Socialising can be exhausting even when we’re not depressed! But contact with a friend can be a great source of emotional support and compassion. Meeting a friend for a walk – with or without a dog – can be a great way of combining casual social interaction with moderate physical activity.

If your friend doesn’t know you’re depressed, that’s ok and you’re not obligated to tell them! If they do, that’s ok too. Plus, being out walking can take the edge off any feelings of awkwardness or nervous anxiety, whether talking about depression or any other subject. You’re not exclusively focused on the conversation and person you’re with.

Quick tip: If you’ve tended to make plans then feel too depressed to go ahead with them in the past, see if your friend can come to your place to meet you. Unless you’re having a particularly bad day, knowing your friend is outside – and a polite but persistent knock on the door – may give you the extra kick to get you out and about.


2.       Do some gardening or cleaning

Interestingly, the longitudinal review of over 26 years of research specifically included gardening as part of the daily moderate physical activity which can have a profound impact on treating and preventing depression.

Have a garden? Get out there and plant some seeds, mow the lawn or get some pruning done. You don’t need to blitz the entire front or back yard in one go, but this activity has the added advantage of being able to see the results of your efforts, which can be a great motivator!

Live in an apartment? Give it a little bit of a spruce. Clean a cupboard, the fridge or your bedroom. It’s all activity, particularly any scrubbing or washing.


3.       Take a pet for a walk

I received so many positive stories from those with depression who were helped by having a furry friend that I wrote an article about it.

Dogs in particular have a lot of rather infectious energy and need to walk (or run) it off every day. So why not combine the energy and love of a four-legged companion with the relatively moderate effort involved in walking and take a stroll in the park?

Don’t have a dog? Offer to walk a friend or neighbour’s! That way you do your friend a favour and enjoy the benefits of dog-walking as part of your depression treatment strategy without having to worry about the responsibility of looking after the dog when the walk is over.


Remember whisker goals

Anything particularly strenuous in any of that? Didn’t think so, but it still counts as moderate physical activity and can help you feel better and beat or prevent depression if done for 30 minutes each day.

Now, in my previous article on how to exercise when depressed, I emphasised the importance of whisker goals as a way to build up your level of physical activity by starting off in small, manageable chunks.

Even the above suggestions for moderate exercise can be started off in small manageable chunks for just a few minutes each. Don’t try and do too much too quickly, else the anticipation of future exercise which again takes up lots of time and energy may be enough to put you off any more attempts.

Interestingly, the study by Andrea Dunn helps here: it showed that three periods of 10 minutes’ exercise per day can have a similar effect to a single 30-minute block.

So, when you feel ready, consider two or three whisker goals of 10 minutes’ period of exercise each day.


More Tips To Keep You Motivated To Exercise

Incorporate exercise as part of a holistic depression treatment plan. Back From The Brink will explain more about this and show you how to do so quickly and easily. You may wish to enrol in our FREE 30 day Mood Boost Challenge. 

You may want to consider introducing rituals. The more you do something, the more familiar and ‘normal’ it becomes. So by building a routine to follow before, during or after exercise, it becomes easier to do. For example, you could buy a pedometer to measure steps each day (they’re cheap), lay exercise clothes out before going to bed and so on.

When you’re out and about, focus on the present moment and observe plants, animals, flowers and smells. Consider keeping a journal where you or your friend or loved one writes down the highlights. Take photos with a phone and share them on social media – you may find sharing with others to help you too.

Finally, being in the present moment can help you cultivate gratitude and focus on the good things and people you have in your life – something that’s liable to be forgotten amidst the heavy fog of negative thoughts that loop in our mind during a period of depression.

For Greg Montgomery, for example, gratitude is a very important part of his efforts to beat and manage depression. In my case, I’m really lucky to live close to the bush. When things get tough for me I find it very helpful to go bushwalking; I never cease to have my breath taken away by the majestic beauty of this incredible part of Australia; often, gratitude involuntarily arises simply by being amidst this natural beauty and for just a few moments I’m distracted from my negative thought cycle, or what’s going on in my head is put into perspective.

Which activities do you do to ensure you get moving each day? I’d love to hear from you, as would many others! Please share in the comments box, on social media, or drop me an e-mail:


Graeme Cowan’s book Back From The Brink, brings you true stories from well-known and everyday people, and practical help for overcoming depression and bipolar disorder. Touching, moving and often surprising, the stories in Back From The Brink are living proof that you too can overcome depression, using the tools and resources provided in the book.


Cowan survived the worst depression his psychiatrist had ever treated. Click here to find out more. 



Back From The Brink Amazon 5 Star Review Summaries

This is an edited version of some of the book reviews on


Peter Saad

I connected to this book from the get go. The stories of 10 different people - each life different, each suffered in similar ways to what I have. The author’s understanding of what it’s like to be in depression, and what's it’s like to recover also helped me connect with him.

The book gives great hope that there is a way out of this awful pain and anguish. Through sharing 10 other lives who have suffered, (some a lot worse than I did), kept me thinking "if they can, there's hope for me".

But perhaps the most remarkable thing about this book is the road map out of it. The chapter titled "Depression Treatments That Work" has coincided with my experience of what works.

I wish I had this book earlier, it would have cleared up a lot of false ideas I had about my illness and the solutions available.


Cowan has interviewed a number of high-profile politicians, journalists and sportspeople about their experiences of depression and bipolar disorder. Their stories were fascinating and heartening, powerful testaments to the possibility of recovery.

In the second section of the book, Cowan offers a lot of helpful advice to depression sufferers. His lived experience helps here; he is compassionate, not preachy, and his advice is practical. He recognises that some people are further advanced on their journey of recovery and offers tips for people who are bedridden as well as those who are on the way to recovering their lives.

I like that the book finishes with a list of organisations and resources, enabling people to follow Cowan's advice.
Cowan is a wonderful leader and mentor for those who are vulnerable and desperately need guidance. This book is a wonderful resource, offering practical advice and very real hope. I would definitely buy a copy for anyone with a mood disorder or a caregiver.

Jennifer (PA)

Many books provide information on the causes and treatment of depression and bipolar disorder, but "Back from the Brink" provides something that is often more important to those who are struggling with these often debilitating conditions...hope.


This book has great personal stories from many prominent people, mostly from America, yet although I'm not American I found the accounts fascinating.

We come to learn how different and sometimes how similar peoples' experiences of mental illness can be. By sharing his own story too we discover the power of tenacity, of never giving up when it seems like the cards are stacked up against us and we have given up on ourselves.

 I think this book should be required reading for everyone, sufferers, carers, health workers, teenagers, family, co-workers. It will reduce stigma and increase understanding of mental illness, which is so very sorely needed even today, 2014.


In his new book, "Back from the Brink," Graeme Cowan affords us a fresh perspective on the management and treatment of major depression and bipolar disorder (manic depression). This wonderful text is sure to be a valuable resource not only for those who suffer mental illness but also for those who care for them. In fact, Cowan asserts that one of the most important things sufferers can do for themselves is "to build the knowledge and resilience of their loved ones." As such, this is a must read for sufferer and caregiver alike.

What makes Cowan's book unique, appealing, and a must read: Through a series of interviews conducted with people willing to share and discuss their plight with mental illness (people Cowan refers to as "fellow travelers"), not only do we learn about how mental illness has adversely impacted the life of the interviewee, but we also learn about "what works" for that individual in overcoming depression--with the tacit understanding that if it works for him or her, it may very well work for you! [My personal favorite is the interview with Bob Boorstin.] 

Kathy (Connecticut)

This book is wonderful because it is like being at a well-run support group with a bunch of famous people.

I loved the way that at the end of each person's story [Graeme] summarized in a box (literally) what that person found most useful in managing his or her illness. If you turn to those pages alone you will learn a lot - but you should read the rest of the book too.



This book provided so much hope, to know that such strong people, as I once saw myself, could suffer as I do, and come out "the other side" is an absolute gift during this desperate point in my journey.

Another valuable tool was Graeme's own story. So powerful... I will win no matter what - and I now feel that hope in me.

Reading the book forced me to demand an appointment with my new psychiatrist.

I think anyone who is newly diagnosed severely depressed or bipolar would be the perfect candidate to get the most from this book.


Marty Wilson

This is a truly wonderful and incredibly important book for those suffering through depression and/or those caring for or living with someone who is. The stories in it very quickly reassure the reader that many people have been right where you are now, and have moved through that big ball of blackness to a bright future. The research is thorough, and the advice down to earth and concise. It was a massive help for me to understand my wife's depression, and for her to be inspired to persevere through some deeply troubling times. Thank you Graeme. Highly recommended.


Lauren Campbell

I found Graeme Cowan's approach in Back from the Brink inspirational and educational.

This book should be mandatory reading not just for those suffering from a mood disorder, or family
and friends, but for every citizen!


Phil Powell

In reading this book, sufferers of Depression or Bi-polar disorder have the opportunity to relate to people who have "walked in their shoes" and most importantly, can attest to the fact that there is a pathway to a better future. This book not only contains these important life stories but also provides a solid foundation of understanding of the multi-factored influences and consequences surrounding these illnesses that are little understood by most people in the community, including sufferers, particularly at the early stages of experiencing problems.
I believe this book can save lives.


This book is invaluable for those struggling with depression or bipolar disorder. It offers stories of success, positive representations of relationships between the person with the mental illness and their support system in their lives, personal advice, models for recovery, and so much hope. The interviews give you the feeling that you're not alone and that a better life is possible, you don't have to put up with feeling bad and suicide is not the answer. I highly recommend this book! I personally have bipolar disorder and this book gave me so much positive information and hope.

Tatiana Paipetis, PhD

An important and revealing mental health resource. Especially useful are the structured summaries of what worked for each interviewee. Read together these summaries identify common strategies that worked for all interviewees. Finally, Graeme's own elaboration on how he beat depression and the final chapter on proven treatments provides a hands on and detailed handbook on options available to alleviate depression. Well worth reading for anyone battling periods of darkness as well as their support network.


John McDonald

Nine people tell their stories and what worked for them. Take your time and read their stories. This advice comes from people who have been in the thick of it. And made significant progress out of it. Changed their lives.
If you are stuck, get help.

Good books are like good friends. Books like this can help.


Geoff McDonald

This book was an inspiring read to see some simple and powerful truths about the human condition. The interviews expose many of the private struggles we hide - even from friends and family. The candour and honesty of the interviewees is a real joy. We hear what daily challenges, stigmas and social misconceptions they had to overcome. Plus, the practices and rituals they employed to be successful.

This book is for anyone wanting to boost their mental health and build their resilience. It points to some basic truths that we can all adopt and cherish.

To read the full reviews please visit Amazon.