A complete depression treatment plan takes into account the physical, social, and emotional aspects of depression.
Dealing with depression means more than just finding the right medication. Since depression can be caused by physical, emotional, and social problems, a complete treatment plan has to take all these causes into consideration.
No two people with depression are the same, and what works well for another person may not work for you. In most cases, the best treatment plan involves a combination of professional help, self-help, and lifestyle changes.
Depression may be caused by an imbalance of chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters. Research shows that the brains of people with depression look different when viewed with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). If your depression has a medical cause, there are many reasons why a medical doctor is the right professional to help you conquer depression. A treatment plan for overcoming depression encompasses:
- Treating depression and any other diseases. Depression may be caused or made worse by other diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, or thyroid disease. Medications, such as beta-blockers, oral contraceptives, sedatives, sleep aids, and even antibiotics, may also have side effects that act like depression. Before moving on to treating your depression, you need a good medical evaluation — that’s one that rules out common medical problems that could be affecting your mood, such as thyroid problems, cardiovascular issues, immune system disorders, and neurological conditions, among others.
- Antidepressant medications. If your family doctor thinks your depression could be helped by antidepressants, he or she may prescribe them for you, or refer you to a psychiatrist. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most common antidepressants prescribed and include Zoloft (sertraline) and Prozac (fluoxetine), but there are other classes of drugs your doctor may recommend. To get the best results, be open with your doctor about how the medication is working and any side effects you may be experiencing.
- Brain stimulation therapy. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), also known as shock therapy, is the delivery of an electric shock that causes a seizure and changes the way the brain’s nerves communicate. There are some types of severe depression for which ECT therapy can provide relief to people who don’t respond to other types of therapy. ECT, which is the most studied type of brain stimulation therapy, can only be administered under medical supervision. Another type of the therapy, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, involves using magnets to send electromagnetic pulses to areas of the brain that affect mood.
- Supplements. The herb St. John’s wort is commonly taken by people in Europe to help fight depression, but it can be life-threatening when combined with an antidepressant and may affect other prescription medications. If it’s something you’re considering taking, discuss it with a doctor before beginning the treatment. Omega-3 fatty acids, or fish oil supplements, have also been shown to help with depression. In a 2014 meta-analysis, the supplements were effective for people with depression symptoms and major depressive disorder. The National Institutes of Health advises caution when taking omega-3s with oral contraceptives and blood pressure medications.
Finding the Right Psychological Help
Psychological stress is a contributor in many cases of depression. If you have experienced a stressful life event such as a financial problem, relationship problem, or loss of a loved one, it can trigger a severe depression. In most cases, a complete treatment plan for dealing with depression includes psychotherapy, also called “talk therapy.” The therapist, a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional, can help you overcome depression by providing:
- Diagnosis of other psychological problems that contribute to depression. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) says that almost half of those with depression also have an anxiety disorder. In addition, alcohol or other drug problems, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and sexual abuse can cause depression and can be diagnosed by a mental health professional. The ADAA estimates that about 20 percent of people with depression or anxiety abuse alcohol or drugs, and the National Center for PTSDstates that depression is three to five times more common among people with PTSD.
- Behavioral therapy. Cognitive, interpersonal, exposure, acceptance and commitment, and group therapies are types of talk therapy that teach you new ways of thinking and dealing with your emotions. You may learn how to identify and change negative coping styles and avoid behaviors that contribute to depression. A 2012 review of meta-analyses found strong evidence that cognitive behavioral therapy, a mix of cognitive and behavioral therapies, was effective.
- Couples and family therapy. A mental health professional can also meet with you and your loved ones at the same time. This is often an effective way of dealing with emotional family and relationship issues that contribute to depression. Getting family members involved in therapy can also strengthen your support system.
- Animal-assisted therapy. Research has found that pets help people feel calm. In one study published in 2014, 80 women watched a traumatic movie clip. Those who watched the clip with a dog had lower anxiety and negative feelings than those who watched it alone or with a stuffed animal.
- Alternative therapies. A mental health professional may introduce you to therapies for stress relief such as biofeedback, in which you practice controlling your body’s responses such as heart rate and muscle tension; progressive relaxation, where you tighten and relax your muscles; or guided imagery meditations, which involves visualizing positive images in place of negative feelings.
Your Role in Overcoming Depression
The first thing you need to do if you are dealing with depression is ask for help. Taking that first step can be hard; statistics show that many people never seek help for depression. Other ways you can work to overcome your depression include:
- Support. Spend time with people who support you. Many people with depression get help from joining a support group. Many also get great support from spiritual practices or religious affiliations. Another option is to go to online message boards and chat rooms to connect with otherpeople who understand what you’re going through. The important thing is not to isolate yourself.
- Exercise. Many studies show that regular physical activity is a great way to stay fit and fight depression, and experts are beginning to learn why. In a study published in 2014 in the journal Cell, Swedish researchers found that building muscle through exercise creates changes that help rid the body of substances that build up from stress and can lead to depression. Seek out activities that you enjoy and that you can share with others.
- Relaxation. Give yourself permission to take time for relaxation. Learn and use relaxation strategies regularly. You can also relax by just making time to do things you enjoy like going to a movie or a ballgame.
- Stay healthy. Eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep, avoid using alcohol and caffeine to excess, and take regular stress breaks by doing something you enjoy, such as watching a comedy, getting a massage, dancing to music, or volunteering.
Depression treatment can work. A good treatment plan will involve a medical evaluation, a psychological evaluation, and one or more types of therapy. The most common treatment plan for severe depression is a combination of medication and talk therapy.
But remember, you can’t overcome depression until you take that first step and seek out the treatment you need. You can find a therapist through the psychologist locator of the American Psychological Association. Learn about support groups in your area or join an online support group through the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, or the online community Project Beyond Blue.