Treatments for Depression: Overview
In a 2003 survey published in the January issue of “Archives of General Psychiatry,” 8.3 percent of U.S. adult respondents had major depression, suggesting similar rates in the U.S. population as a whole. Half of those with major depression had received some form of care, according to the study. However, only one in five had received treatment that conformed with established treatment guidelines.
Treatments for Depression: Psychotherapy
Psychotherapy, or psychological counseling, is considered a first-line choice among treatments for depression. During counseling, patients work with a mental health specialist to learn about depression causes, identify and alter unhealthy behavior and thoughts, learn coping mechanisms and set realistic goals.
In cognitive therapy (one of the most common types of counseling) patients learn to replace negative belief patterns with positive thoughts.
Interpersonal therapy and psychodynamic psychotherapy can also help treat depression. In interpersonal therapy, patients learn to improve relationships that may be a trigger for depression symptoms. Psychotherapy may be the best treatment option for mild to moderate depression.
Treatments for Depression: Medication
Antidepressant medications are another first-line treatment for depression. They work by affecting chemicals in the brain that regulate mood, including serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. Several types of antidepressants exist, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs), atypical antidepressants, tricyclic antidepressants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).
SSRIs, such as Prozac or Zoloft, are the newest class of antidepressants and are generally the first treatment choice because they work well and cause few bothersome side effects. SNRIs are also popular and cause few side effects.
Common side effects of SSRIs and SNRIs include headache, nausea, insomnia, agitation and sexual problems. Sometimes other medications, such as anti-anxiety medications or stimulants are used to manage depression symptoms as well. Some medications begin showing effects in as few as two weeks, but may take eight weeks or longer for full results.
If medication side effects disturb you, talk to a doctor about discontinuing the medication. Do not stop taking the medication abruptly; this may lead to withdrawal symptoms. Antidepressant medications have triggered suicidal thoughts in children, adolescents and young adults ages 18 to 24, so use caution when taking these medications. If you have thoughts of harming yourself or others, immediately call your doctor or seek emergency help.
Treatments for Depression: Electroconvulsive Therapy
Electroconvulsive therapy is typically used for people with treatment-resistant depression or those at risk of suicide. In this treatment, the patient is put under general anesthesia and given a muscle relaxant. Electrical currents are then sent through the brain to affect neurotransmitters. Several sessions may be needed. Many people experience immediate relief of depression symptoms. Common side effects include temporary confusion, disorientation and memory loss.
Combine psychotherapy and medication for best results. Take your medication for the length of time directed by your doctor before giving up. In addition to traditional treatments for depression, practice self-care strategies. Proper diet and regular exercise have also been shown to be helpful for easing depression symptoms. Exercise and certain foods trigger the release of “feel-good” brain chemicals. Start out small; even 15 minutes of exercise per day can be beneficial. Eat a varied, balanced diet, including plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Talk to your doctor before trying any alternative therapies for depression, such as taking supplements.
NB: The content of this article is for information purposes only and is not intended to replace sound medical advice and opinion.