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How can depression be treated?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

The type of treatment will depend on the severity and cause of depression. In mild cases, psychotherapy (a treatment that involves talking to a counselor or psychologist who helps you understand and overcome your depression) may be effective on its own.

Commonly, psychotherapy is combined with medication, most of which alter the neurotransmitter chemicals in your brain that affect your mood. In severe cases, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may quickly lessen the symptoms of depression. Magnetic stimulation or nerve stimulation in the brain has also been shown to have effective results.

Once a person has been diagnosed with depression, there are a number of treatment options.

Common treatments for chronic depression and major depression are psychotherapy to help the patient learn effective coping methods, antidepressant medications to relieve medications, or a combination.

Antidepressant medications can help to normalize neurotransmitters in the brain.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft and others, are the newest types of antidepressants. Other commonly prescribed medications are called serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), which include Effexor and Cymbalta. SNRIS and SSRIs generally have fewer side effects than tricyclics and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), which have a history of food and drug interactions. The type of antidepressant that is most effective can differ from person to person. Doctors often encourage patients to try different forms until they find the one that works best.

Antidepressants typically are taken regularly for at least four weeks, and in some cases up to eight weeks, before improvement is noticed. It generally takes six months to 12 months to achieve complete therapeutic effect. In cases of chronic or severe depression, long-term treatment may be required.

Antidepressant medication, psychotherapy, and a combination of the two are the most common treatments for depressive illness. However, in addition to adherence to the treatment plan that you develop with your doctor, there are several self-care approaches for managing depression. Several strategies have been rigorously evaluated, and scientific evidence supports their role in managing depression. Physical activity (both aerobic and anaerobic) and relaxation therapy may contribute significantly to alleviating symptoms of depression. Of course, it is important to consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. It is also important to inform him or her about any nutritional supplements or herbs that you are taking so that you can avoid harmful drug interactions.

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Depression is an illness of the brain that usually requires some form of treatment. It is important for you to recognize this, to take the illness seriously and to take good care of yourself. Depression can make even the simplest parts of daily living very difficult. There are some things you can do to make yourself feel better, even if only slightly. 

  • Consider some form of exercise daily. Exercise is good for both physical and mental health. Establishing a regular exercise routine will help maintain a healthy weight and reduce stress levels, important for someone with depression.
  • Try to eat a healthy balanced diet every day. A healthy diet, which includes whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, protein, and is low in fat, will help keep your body healthy.
  • There are many relaxation techniques to lower your stress, including meditation and deep breathing, which can help with depression. These techniques, widely used around the world, are a low-cost way to lower stress.
  • Maintain healthy sleep habits, as much as possible. Set up a regular routine for bedtime and morning to be sure you are getting enough sleep, but not too much sleep.
  • Avoid and reduce stress. Stress, both at work and home, can increase your feelings of depression. It is important to avoid stress in your daily life.
  • Keep your working hours predictable and manageable. Openly communicate with family members and loved ones about what is going on in your life to foster better relationships and elicit their support.
  • Limit or curtail alcohol or substance use or abuse. Use of these substances may worsen your symptoms of depression or interfere with your prescribed medications.
  • Create a daily routine. Organizing and planning your day will help to manage the many daily life tasks that you have to do. Create and maintain a monthly calendar.
  • Be patient with yourself. For someone with depression, even the smallest tasks can seem impossible. If you can’t find the energy to go for a walk today, then just stand outside for a little while and get some fresh air. If you can’t make a healthy meal for yourself, try to eat a piece of fruit. If you are finding yourself unable to sleep, consider learning meditation or other relaxation techniques. If you are sleeping all of the time, consider ways to spend less time in bed.

These things will not make your depression go away, but they may make your day feel a little bit easier.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.