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Track Your Depression Treatment Progress Through Journaling

Making time to write regularly can help you better understand your experience and measure your improvement.

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Medically reviewed in January 2023

Updated on January 27, 2023

As you work to overcome major depression (also known as clinical depression, major depressive disorder, or MDD), you can boost your success by being an active member of your treatment team. Once you've worked with a healthcare provider (HCP) to put a depression treatment plan in place, the next step is to watch for signs that you're feeling better.

Overcoming depression may take time but keeping track of your progress can help your treatment team fine-tune the right mix of antidepressant medication and psychotherapy for you.

Keep a depression symptoms journal
Many depression patients find that writing about their thoughts and feelings can help them understand their experience better. A depression journal can take a variety of forms, but many patients find it helpful to record details about their symptoms.

Because depression symptoms can vary from day to day, it may be more helpful to assess your progress at the end of each week instead of daily. To keep track of subtle changes in your symptoms, use a depression symptoms journal for at least the first few months of treatment. Set aside time to write in it daily.

If your writing flows naturally, that’s great. But many people find it difficult to get started, particularly if symptoms feel painful. If you could use some prompts to guide your journaling process, use this checklist to assess your progress at around the same time each week:

___I feel more rested in the morning.
___I’m interested at work and able to concentrate.
___My energy level seems to be improving.
___Feelings of lethargy or restlessness were less noticeable.
___I tried to eat regularly and healthfully most days of the week.
___I took my antidepressant medication daily (if applicable).
___I exercised at least three times this week.
___Feelings of loss, sadness, guilt, or worthlessness were not distracting.
___I engaged in an activity with friends or family.
___Overall, this week was better than last week.

If you're taking an antidepressant, take note of the following potential side effects and contact your HCP or therapist right away if you have them:

  • Feelings of worthlessness or thoughts of self-harm
  • Worsening depression
  • Changes in your sexual interest

Modifying your depression treatment plan
Research shows that a combination of antidepressant medication plus psychotherapy offers the best chance for lasting relief from major depression, says Gerry Neely, MA, LMFT, who works with clients in her Seattle practice. If you feel a stigma about taking medication, "finding the right medication can serve as a short-term bridge to feeling better and being able to fully engage with life," Neely says.

If you don't see improvement right away, don't give up hope. Research funded by the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) shows that switching antidepressants or adding a medication to your depression treatment plan can help. If your symptoms persist, your HCP will review your current plan and your overall health to be sure nothing was missed. They can try a variety of techniques to find the right match.

If you feel overwhelmed by feelings of self-harm, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call, text, or chat 988.

Article sources open article sources

Mental Health America. How to keep a mental health journal. 2022. Accessed January 27, 2023.
University of Rochester Medical Center. Journaling for Mental Health. 2022. Accessed January 27, 2023.

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