Depression is a mental health condition that causes feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and emptiness. It’s one of the most common mental health conditions. In fact, over 15 million adults experienced depression in 2014. It’s also estimated that 2 in 100 children and 8 in 100 teens have depression.
Depression can greatly interfere with day-to-day life. But there are many effective treatments available that can help you manage your depression symptoms.
Keep reading to learn about the different types of medications and treatment plans available to treat depression, plus how to find mental health professionals in your area.
Depression medications are a common part of treatment. Some people use these medications for a short time, while others use them long term. Your doctor will take multiple factors into consideration before prescribing any medication, including:
- its possible side effects
- your current health concerns
- possible drug interactions
- your specific symptoms
Medications that are commonly used to treat depression include the following:
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
Also known as SSRIs, these typically have fewer side effects than other types of antidepressants. Fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), and escitalopram (Lexapro) all fit into this category.
Depression is linked to low levels of serotonin (as well as low levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, and other brain chemicals). SSRIs work by preventing your blood from absorbing some of the serotonin from your brain. This leaves a higher level of serotonin in the brain, and increased serotonin can help relieve depression.
Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors
Also known as SNRIs, these include duloxetine (Cymbalta) and desvenlafaxine (Pristiq).
It’s believed that SNRIs help treat depression by keeping up the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine — chemical messengers that affect mood — in your brain. They do this by stopping serotonin and norepinephrine from going back into the cells that released them.
Tricyclic antidepressants allow more serotonin and norepinephrine to stay in your brain, helping to elevate your mood. They can be very effective, but cause more severe side effects. They’re often used if you haven’t responded to other medications. These include imipramine (Tofranil) and nortriptyline (Pamelor).
Mood stabilizers or anxiety medications are sometimes combined with antidepressant medication. If you’re seeing a counselor or a therapist who can’t prescribe medications, they can contact your primary care doctor and request the prescription for you.
If you’re experiencing symptoms related to mild to moderate depression, you may benefit from therapy with a trusted, qualified therapist. Many experts will try therapy prior to trying medication. However, if depression is more severe, many will try a combination of therapy and medication.
Talk therapy involves discussing your problems and how you feel with a trained therapist. Your therapist can help you detect patterns of thought or behavior that contribute to your depression.
You may be given homework, such as tracking your moods or writing in journals. This will help you to continue your treatment outside of appointments. Your therapist can also teach you exercises to reduce stress and anxiety and help you understand your illness.
A therapist can also help you create strategies to identify and avoid any triggers that exacerbate your depression. This includes developing coping mechanisms for when you experience these triggers.
Talk therapy may resolve temporary or mild depression. It can often treat severe depression but not without other treatments such as medication.
Cognitive therapy aims to determine the negative thoughts and emotions that exacerbate depression. This type of therapy helps people identify these unhelpful though patterns and to turn them into more productive ones.
Usually, cognitive therapy is a short-term and last between 6 weeks to 4 months.
Behavioral therapy seeks to identify and help change potentially self-destructive or unhealthy behaviors. It functions on the idea that all behaviors are learned and that unhealthy behaviors can be changed. The focus of treatment is often on current problems and how to change them.
This type of therapy usually focuses on helping patients engage in activities that will enhance their feelings of well-being.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy. This form of therapy modifies thought patterns in order to change moods and behaviors. It’s based on the idea that negative actions or feelings are the result of current distorted beliefs or thoughts, not unconscious forces from the past.
CBT is a blend of cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy. It focuses on addressing both the negative thought patterns and the behaviors that contribute to depression.
Online therapy options
Read our review of the best online therapy options to find the right fit for you.
There are a variety of alternative and natural treatments that are often used to treat depression. These treatments shouldn’t be used without consulting your doctor first, especially if you’re taking prescription antidepressants or other medications.
Sometimes it can be helpful to use complementary or natural treatments for depression alongside traditional ones. Be sure to check in with your doctor before adding supplements or other complementary treatments to your routine.
Natural remedies include:
Organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offer support groups, education, and other resources to help address depression and other mental health conditions.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing and treating a variety of mental illnesses, including depression. The association provides free in-person and virtual support groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia but it also has a thriving online anxiety and depression support group with more than 59,000 members. T
If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
If you need to talk to someone right away, help is available:
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
- Text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
- Call the Samaritans 24-Hour Crisis Helpline at (877) 870-4673 (HOPE).
- If you’re living with a mental health or substance use disorder, call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 800-662-4357.
- Not in the U.S.? Find a helpline in your country with Befrienders Worldwide.
Certain lifestyle changes can help you manage your depression. These can be used along with treatment from your therapist to get your best results.
Avoiding alcohol and substance use can make a big impact on your depression. Some people may feel temporary relief from their depression when consuming alcohol or taking drugs, but once these substances wear off, your symptoms can feel more severe. They can even make your depression more difficult to treat.
Eating nutritious meals and staying physically active can help you feel better all around. Exercising regularly can increase your endorphins and relieve depression. Getting enough sleep is also essential to both your physical and mental health.
The first step in getting treatment for depression is making an appointment with your general practitioner. They can recommend doctors in your area.
If you’re religious, ask your religious leader if they have counselors to recommend. Some people prefer faith-based counseling, which incorporates their religion into a treatment plan.
You can also check healthcare databases for therapists, psychiatrists, and counselors. These databases can provide you with information such as certifications, accepted insurance providers, and reviews left by other people. You can start with these databases:
Sticking to your treatment plan is one of the most important things you can do. It’s easy to get discouraged in the first few weeks of treatment, and you may feel like you don’t want to continue. All types of treatment can take a few months before you notice a difference.
It can also feel like you’re doing much better, causing you to stop treatment altogether. Never stop treatment without consulting your doctor first.
You should feel comfortable talking to your therapist. If you don’t, try switching to a new one. You may have to meet with several therapists before you find the one that’s right for you.
You should also talk to your therapist about your feelings toward your therapy sessions and your overall treatment plan. This allows them to work with you and make changes if your treatment plan isn’t working.
Finding the right treatment is often a trial-and-error process. If one doesn’t work, it’s good to move on. If 2 or more months have gone by and you’ve stuck to a treatment but don’t feel any relief from the depression, it’s likely not working for you. You should experience relief from depression within 3 months of starting a medication.
Talk to your doctor immediately if your:
- depression doesn’t improve after several month of treatment
- symptoms have improved, but you still don’t feel like yourself
- symptoms get worse
These are signs that your treatment plan isn’t working for you.
Depression can be one of the greatest challenges in life. But there are many effective treatments available that can help you manage your depression symptoms.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your treatment plan may include a combination of medication, therapy, and complementary remedies. Make sure to talk with your doctor to figure out the best plan for you.