Read our guide to explore treatment options for depression to help find the right one for you or a loved one.
Young or old, depression can affect anybody. If left untreated, on average it lasts for eight months; in severe cases, it can last for decades and is linked to suicide. As such, it’s important to explore treatment options for depression to help find the one that is most suitable for either you or a loved one.
Depression and mental illness is a difficult subject, and for those that are lucky enough never to have experienced it, the condition can be very hard to understand. More than just ‘feeling sad’, clinical depression is a very real medical ailment that persists over a prolonged period of time. Much is still unknown about depression, but it can affect anyone – the World Health Organisation has estimated that one in five women and one in 10 men will experience some form of depression in their lifetime.
If you have depression, then you may have feelings of sadness, undefined guilt, frequent mood changes, or unexplained anger. You may have trouble concentrating on tasks and in decision making, or you may start withdrawing from social events and from talking to people. Physically you may feel tired and lethargic, lose or gain weight, or start sleeping excessively or very little. You may experience paranoia, hallucinations or even suicidal thoughts, and you may find yourself thinking about death in general. If you think you may be suffering from depression, it’s very important to consult a healthcare professional about depression help, as they will be able to give a diagnosis and suggested depression treatment to help tackle and eventually resolve these symptoms.
Whatever the causes of your depression, lifestyle changes can help. Take regular exercise which produces mood-boosting endorphins, and eat healthily to ensure your body has everything it needs. Increase your serotonin levels naturally by eating foods with omega-3 fatty acids like oily fish, and healthy fats such as in avocado and coconut oil. Supplements of fish oil and St John’s Wort may also help for depression, though when you do explore treatment options for depression, you should first seek medical advice before taking anything new. Get out in the sunlight as often as you can to get your daily dose of vitamin D, but ensure you wear sunscreen to prevent skin damage. You should also aim to reduce stress levels in your life: be honest with yourself about potential causes of depression, and focus on removing this stress from your life as a priority. This often involves putting yourself first for once!
Depending on the severity of your depression, sometimes medication is required to help you tackle this mental ailment. You should explore treatment options for depression using medication very carefully. This form of help for depression needs to be discussed with a medical professional because, whilst drugs can deal with the symptoms, they don’t necessarily help with the cause and can have side effects too. There are also many different kinds of medication which can be used to treat depression, and it may take some time to find the right type and dosage for you.
Antidepressants can help for depression as they work by regulating the brain’s neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Symptoms of depression can occur when levels of these drop too low, but it’s debatable as to whether depression causes these chemical changes or vice versa. At any rate, antidepressants can be effective in reducing the symptoms of depression and can help where other non-medical forms of treatment for depression have failed. They usually take several weeks before the patient notices any positive change, and require two or three months for a full assessment. The results can vary according to individual genetic makeup and, according to the University of Michigan’s Depression Center, only around 40% of patients with major depression will receive the ‘right’ medication on the first attempt. As such, don’t be disheartened if you feel no change at first, otherwise you can explore treatment options for depression that don’t involve antidepressants.
As one of the most popular depression treatment options, SSRI’s are a commonly prescribed medication in the US for depression help. They work by increasing the brain’s effectiveness at using serotonin and tend to have fewer side effects than other drugs. Some people do experience nausea and drowsiness when taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, though these generally diminish over time. Brand names include Prozac and Zoloft.
One of the newer treatment options for depression, serotonin & norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors have even less side effects than SSRI’s. However, they may not be suitable in cases of severe depression. For less severe cases, it’s thought they may be more efficient because they affect two neurotransmitters rather than just one. Studies have also suggested patients taking SNRI’s have better rates of remission than those who explore treatment options for depression that don’t involve SNRI’s.
These have been used since the 1950’s, but SSRI’s are more commonly used in their place nowadays. The main downside to Tricyclic Antidepressants is the risk of overdose – be it intentional or accidental. TCA’s are very toxic, and as such need to be taken and monitored very carefully.
If you have tried to explore treatment options for depression and not found the ideal solution, then you may need to consider Monoamine oxidase inhibitors. MAOI’s are usually a ‘last resort’ because of the higher risk of reactions with everyday products like caffeine and strong cheese. As one of the more thorough options of treatment for depression, they are used to treat panic disorder too. MAOI’s prevent certain enzymes from working, and in this way control neurotransmitter levels. These drugs can’t be used in conjunction with other antidepressants.
Used to treat more severe disorders such as bipolar disorder, these can sometimes help to tackle forms of depression that have not responded to other drugs. There are side effects and regular blood tests are needed to monitor the dosage, so they are not commonly used to treat depression alone.
As one of the more extreme treatment options for depression, antipsychotics are also used to treat schizophrenia and severe paranoia. As such, they are reserved for only the most acute cases of the depression. These include cases where the patient is experiencing advanced symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations. They can be used alongside mood stabilizers.
Electroconvulsive therapy is thought to change the effect of neurotransmitters, though it is an extreme treatment for severe depression. Side effects can include headaches and temporary memory loss. This may suit those patients who have tried to explore treatment options for depression without any success.
While medication can be an important way to control the symptoms of depression, depression counseling such as different forms of psychotherapy can help you learn the necessary skills to deal with depressive episodes. It has been shown that real life experiences can affect serotonin levels just as much as medication can. A 1995 study from the American Psychological Association found that psychotherapy – not antidepressants – was to be recommended as first course of treatment for depression.
A specific form of psychotherapy – cognitive behavioral therapy – aims to break the cycle of depression by changing thinking and behavioral patterns. Rather than trying to understand the condition by itself, this type of depression counseling provides a new viewpoint and a sense of control for the patient. CBT has been shown to be an effective way of dealing with mental illness. Sessions are usually recommended weekly, for 30 minutes at a time. The number of sessions will depend on the response to the depression treatment. There are no known side effects, but the patient needs to be fully committed in order for it to work.
As one of the more personal treatment options for depression, interpersonal therapy is a form of depression counseling which looks at the way the patient deals with other people. This is a different type of psychotherapy that can be used alongside CBT, and it is only meant to be for a short period – less than 16 weeks. It is designed to identify potential problems (which could link to depression) in the patient’s way of interacting with other people, and to help develop ways for the patient to address these. One or two ‘patient-specific problems’ are selected, and these are the focus of the interpersonal therapy for the duration of the treatment course.
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