Are retreats for depression a new potential therapeutic option or a therapy booster?

18 July 2023

Reading Time: 8 mins

Tangerine Retreat's Team

Can depression be treated with psychedelic retreats?

Depression, often manifesting as feelings of hopelessness, is a multifaceted illness. It can be temporary for some, while accompanying others for many years. Individuals who are depressed and experience long-term symptoms of depression often feel like they are missing out on life: dark thoughts prevent them from enjoying simple moments, anxieties disrupt their emotional stability, and they may lack motivation to embark on new endeavors.

Faced with the challenges of living with depression, each person seeks their own path to healing and explores different therapies, alternative approaches, or spiritual practices. Some may consult a psychiatrist or opt for talk therapy, while others explore different therapies, alternative approaches, or spiritual practices. In the quest for a more fulfilling life, various treatments and methods have emerged, ranging from antidepressants and dietary supplements to mental health retreats.

Psychedelic retreats are now a promising avenue for individuals seeking to address their depression. They are part of a comprehensive process that must be thoroughly understood before embarking on it. Treatments such as these aim to balance the neurotransmitters that play a role in mood and behavior.

Depression: Signs and Symptoms

Unlike a temporary bout of sadness or the occasional feeling of being depressed, which many individuals experience, depression is a disorder that lasts for at least two weeks and can persist for months or even years.

Patients with depression often describe overwhelming fatigue, a lack of motivation, and a complete lack of energy from the moment they wake up. They become unable to perform tasks that were once natural to them, such as doing dishes, running errands, or attending social gatherings. However, a person experiencing depression is not necessarily bedridden, lacking motivation, or constantly brooding.

In fact, this illness can take on various forms and present different symptoms, including changes in libido, irritability, difficulty concentrating or thinking, eating disturbances (either decreased or increased appetite), and even suicidal thoughts.

Sleep quality can also be affected by depression, resulting in staying up late, difficulty getting to bed, excessive or insufficient sleep. Overall, depression can transport the individual who suffers from it from one extreme to another, making the diagnosis sometimes complex or lengthy.

However, there is a common thread among almost all patients, whether consciously or unconsciously. Depression affects self-esteem. The person feels worthless, and may even experience feelings of guilt. The individual perceives themselves trapped in a life of suffering and withdrawing from social interactions.

The Different Types of Clinical-depression

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 300 million people worldwide suffer from one form or another of this illness. It is a colossal public health issue. Medical professionals now recognize four major types of depressive disorders. While they may not all have the same impact on individuals’ quality of life, none should be taken lightly, waiting for it to pass.

  • Major depression, also known as major depressive disorder or severe depression, occurs when melancholy, lack of motivation, emotional disengagement, and loss of pleasure persist for more than two weeks.
  • When symptoms of sadness, demotivation, and fatigue consistently occur at the same time each year, it is known as seasonal affective disorder. Typically, this phenomenon occurs during the winter months.
  • Women who have recently given birth may experience postpartum depression within six months after childbirth. In this case, the new mother feels helpless and incapable of meeting her child’s needs, leading to more severe bouts of melancholy than in the context of “baby blues.”
  • Finally, in 2023, the scientific community also recognized the existence of cognitive depression. It takes a form that may resemble certain aspects of burnout.

Cognitive depression

In detail, cognitive depression, or cognitive biotype, is characterized by intellectual slowing and periods of insomnia. The person is affected by decreased activity in the frontal cortex, which can result in difficulties in planning ahead, exercising self-control, maintaining concentration, and correcting inappropriate behaviors.

According to a study on cognitive depression published in JAMA, this new form of mental illness appears to be resistant to antidepressants that target serotonin, such as Sertraline (Effexor).

There is also a type of depression associated with bipolar disorder, which alternates with characteristic periods of excitement. One could even extrapolate by mentioning how post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can also be a contributing factor to depression.

In Search of Effective Therapies

The Limits of Antidepressants

Antidepressants, which target neurotransmitters, have been a staple in treating depression since the 1970s. While Prozac is one of the most well-known, there are numerous classes of antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).

These antidepressants help many people, but unfortunately, not everyone… Today, we know that several forms of depression can be resistant to medication treatments. Additionally, the short-term and long-term side effects of antidepressants can be unpleasant and discourage patients, including fatigue, irritability, digestive disturbances, emotional detachment, and memory loss.

Exploring Alternative Therapeutic Approaches

These unwanted effects have led some individuals to try alternative therapeutic solutions. Psychotherapy is often considered as a secondary option in the treatment of depression. Its effectiveness depends on the patient, their emotional receptivity, and many other factors that are still unknown.

Given the relative effectiveness of conventional treatments, several therapeutic approaches have emerged to combat depression. These include St. John’s wort, Griffonia simplicifolia, meditation, fasting, microdosing of magic mushrooms or LSD.

Retreats for Depression: A Fresh Perspective on Treatment?

In recent years, several retreats have offered psychedelic-assisted therapy to individuals seeking treatment for depression. These retreats for depression primarily incorporate psilocybin magic truffles or Ayahuasca in their treatment modalities.

These retreats are based on scientific research that has demonstrated that psychedelic substances can have comparable or superior effects to synthetic medications in combating major depressive symptoms or anxiety, at least in certain tested patients.

The Inner Workings of a Mental Health Retreat

At the core of these retreats is the idea of leveraging the neurochemical changes incited by substances like magic mushroom’s truffles in a controlled, serene, and lawful environment. Following consumption, these substances can induce hallucinations and a cascade of cognitive shifts that help individuals delve deeper into their emotions and pinpoint the origins of their illness. After ingesting the psychedelic substance, the fireworks that occur in the participants’ brains can help them gain a better understanding of their emotions and pinpoint the origins of their illness. This can be particularly useful for those who experience agitation as a symptom of their condition.

“It’s a unique opportunity to feel more intensely, to enter a world saturated with sensations, and to create a breach in one’s own emotional barriers.”

During a psychedelic journey, the brain is stimulated by intense but temporary sounds, images, and disruptions. Furthermore, the experience can bring forth buried, forgotten, or repressed memories and emotions. Psilocybin or ayahuasca, in fact, are hallucinogenic substances that disrupt the usual functioning of neurons and encourage increased communication between them. For the participant, it is a unique opportunity to experience intensified sensations, enter a world saturated with feelings, and create a breakthrough in their own emotional barriers.

Emotional Accessibility and its Implications

Through this crack in the armor, it becomes easier to understand emotions, gain a detached perspective, or fathom their severity. Several hours after the end of their psychedelic experience, some individuals directly testify to a sense of inner peace.

For some, the augmented activity of synaptic serotonin receptors paves the way for a mental landscape more receptive to introspection. The weeks succeeding the retreat witness the brain maintaining its connection to profound emotions, positioning the participant to capitalize on this newfound emotional receptiveness, possibly complementing it with interpersonal or cognitive behavioral therapies.

Without the usual psychological barriers, the work done with a psychologist or healthcare professional would be much deeper. The brain’s plasticity, triggered by a psychoactive molecule, is believed to enable rapid reconfiguration without the need for a lengthy process.

Trust and Mental Health

Those battling treatment resistant depression, a particularly challenging form of the mental illness, sometimes perceive psychedelic retreats as a potential cure for depression, as a method to prevent a relapse or as an alternative to conventional treatments. However, it’s imperative to recognize that these retreats don’t promise miraculous cures.

“The participant must have absolute certainty that they are respected and understood, particularly in their limitations.”

However, the role of organizers and facilitators is to create an atmosphere of trust and relaxation that allows the psychedelic molecule to have maximum effect. Trust is a key criterion in any therapeutic, spiritual, or personal endeavor. The goal is to promote the mental health of the participants.

A person with depression needs to feel sufficiently safe to open up and let go. The participant must have absolute certainty that they are respected and understood, especially in their limitations (difficulty speaking, desire for isolation, apprehensions).

While a psychedelic retreat may have an impact on mental health, it is evident that it is not a medical treatment. Participants are always encouraged to consult with a medical professional before enrolling.

How do we work at Tangerine Retreat for depressed people ?

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While we cannot speak for all psychedelic retreats, we can at least speak for ours. In our view, a psilocybin retreat is a place that combines professionalism and humanity to create a caring, friendly, and serious atmosphere. At Tangerine Retreat, the protocol of a psychedelic retreat revolves around five pillars:

  1. Retreat Preparation: Group video conferences before the retreat allow participants to get to know each other and receive guidance in their journey.
  2. Getting to Know the Participants: Individual interviews between facilitators and participants establish a connection to understand their intentions.
  3. Relaxation: On-site, various breathing exercises, yoga, and spiritual connection activities promote a peaceful state of mind.
  4. Enjoyment: The team selects an inspiring, green, and serene retreat location, prepares enjoyable meals, and organizes moments of sharing through music.
  5. Support and Guidance: During and after the psychedelic experience, facilitators are present to reassure participants and provide support in challenging moments.

Beyond the protocol, we strive to foster a friendly and accessible atmosphere. We prioritize a familial spirit that quickly puts everyone at ease. The Tangerine Retreat team remains with the participants throughout the stay, alternating between lighthearted, personal, or even mundane conversations, moments of silence, and relaxation activities.

FAQ on Retreats for Depression and Anxiety

What is a retreat for depression, and how can it help?

A retreat is a suspended moment that can last for a few days or several weeks. The benefits vary for each individual, but most people come back enthusiastic.

The challenges we face in our daily lives allow us to better appreciate the camaraderie, tranquility, and the break from our usual environment. Feeling good, in a bubble, for a few days always helps in moving forward.

When it comes to a retreat to alleviate depressive states, several options can be considered: religious or spiritual retreats, yoga, Qi Gong, meditation, holotropic breathing, psychedelic experiences, or support groups.

Is there such a thing as retreats for depression?

There are not, strictly speaking, therapeutic retreats for depression or anxiety. However, psychedelic retreats are highly recommended by people suffering from depression for having a meaningful experience. Like any retreat focused on mental well-being, participants hope to find the catalyst for personal growth.

The effects of psilocybin, combined with the setting of a retreat, are indeed very favorable conditions from which one can begin or continue therapy for depression or anxiety.

How does a psychedelic retreat work?

A psychedelic retreat involves a combination of relaxation exercises, group discussions, and one or more doses of psychedelic substances. The idea is to prepare the mind to embark on an extraordinary journey.

Under the influence of psychedelics, participants can expect to access repressed emotions and gain a deeper understanding of the foundations of their personality, suffering, or depressive phases.

Why attend a mental health retreat?

One may attend a mental health retreat to feel better, have a transformative experience, or experience intense emotions.

In many psychological disorders, emotions or the ability to act become blocked, which can hinder understanding the underlying issues. Spiritual or psychological retreats aim to reconnect participants with their feelings to help them regain control.

Why choose a retreat in the Netherlands rather than in my own country?

In the Netherlands, psychedelic retreats are legal. In general, it is advisable to stay within a legal framework when dealing with psychedelics. In a legal retreat, the hosting organization is registered and has legal responsibilities.

While psychedelics are not inherently dangerous, unexpected situations can arise, and the presence of experienced professionals is always beneficial to ensure a positive and well-guided journey.

What activities are included in a retreat?

At Tangerine Retreat, a retreat spans 3 days during which we offer several relaxing activities, including group discussions, one-on-one role-playing, yoga, breathing exercises, nature walks, music evenings, vegetarian meals, and, of course, the consumption of legal psilocybin truffles!

Do I need a referral from a mental health professional to attend a depression retreat?

It is not necessary to have a medical referral or prescription to consume psilocybin in a retreat in the Netherlands, especially when seeking alternative methods to treat depression. However, if you have been on antidepressant or antipsychotic medication, or if you have shown any symptom of a psychiatric disorder, it is highly recommended to discuss it with your healthcare or psychiatric professional. This is crucial to understand how such medications or conditions might interfere with the effects of psilocybin.

Individuals with renal insufficiency, diabetes, or hypertension are also advised to make their decision after discussing it with their doctor.

Do you offer retreats for women with depression?

Some women go through prolonged depression due to trauma related to a man’s behavior, such as sexual violence, domestic or child abuse. One or multiple events may lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. In this regard, participating in an exclusively female wellness retreat may be justified to create positive retreat conditions that allow the participants to build trust.

Contact the Tangerine Retreat team to learn about the details of these women-only retreats dedicated to depression and anxiety.

What should I bring for a depression retreat?

Come with the desire to discover a new world and bring comfortable clothing! We provide meals, towels, and bedding. If you feel the need, you can also bring anything that brings you comfort, such as a book, sweets, or photos of loved ones.

Can I bring my phone or computer?

We do not prohibit the use of technological devices. Fortunately! However, we encourage you not to stress yourself by staying connected to work emails. The goal is to disconnect and relax, allowing the mushroom to produce its best effects.

During the few hours following the consumption of psilocybin, we recommend not using your connected devices to fully embrace the calmness that follows the ceremony (although sending a text message is still allowed!).

Picture from Freepik