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How to Effectively Deal with Major Depression after Illness

written by: lanceivar • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 10/20/2010

Some individuals are more prone to depression than others and will slip into clinical depression more readily, and yet there are times and circumstances in which many people who would not otherwise be considered depressed can also develop the symptoms of clinical depression.

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    Depression Happens

    Major life changes that can precipitate depressive episodes include divorce, death of a loved one, and major illness. Some illnesses, in fact, have an even greater power than others to induce depression. For example, fully 40% of people who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease will develop the symptoms of a major depressive episode.

    If surgery is involved, the physical stresses, discomforts, pain, and difficulties add to the emotional stresses to increase the odds of a major depressive episode even more. Quite simply, the more stressful the illness or procedure, the greater the chance of depression.

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    Treating Major Depression After Illness

    Fortunately, treating major depression after illness is fundamentally the same as treating depression any other time in one’s life.

    First off it must be emphasized that the prognosis for depression is very good when professional treatment is sought. As in other situations and circumstances, social support is important and can greatly assist recovery from depression after illness, but social supports are usually not enough in themselves to adequately treat depression.

    Support groups for people with specific illnesses, for example, can be very beneficial to somebody experiencing depression as a result of an illness, but typically it is recommended as part of a treatment plan and not as the sole treatment.

    Counseling or therapy whether with a psychologist, mental health counselor, or social worker, is indicated for depression in almost all circumstances, assuming resources are available.

    Depending on a patient’s history of psychiatric treatment or past depressive episodes, medication may be indicated as well, as a coordinated treatment regime including both medication and therapy is more beneficial than either medication or therapy alone. Specific medications that might be considered include Prozac, Zoloft, Welbutrin, Effexor, Paxil, Celexa, Lexapro, Cymbalta, and more.

    Physicians and other medical providers will likely make a referral to mental health professionals for patients who show signs of depressive symptoms, but not always. They will be able to provide the referrals and resources if prompted however.

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    Therapeutic Strategies: CBT

    The most accepted form of therapy for depression and especially major depression after illness is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT for short).

    CBT has been shown in numerous studies to be highly effective in treating depression. A therapist utilizing a CBT approach will aim to assist the client to identify the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that interact to support or maintain depressive symptoms.

    Any particular individual will present with a unique combination of factors as well as a differing level of insight into how their thoughts or behaviors may affect their emotions, and vice versa. After identifying and exploring these relationships, the therapist will then assist with the development of a plan to change the factors that are within the client’s power to change, typically the thoughts and/or behaviors.

    With support and ongoing monitoring, clients are then usually able to implement changes and see results in a relatively short period of time. CBT has in fact been shown to be the most efficient form of therapy for depression, often reducing symptoms after just a couple sessions.