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Managing vs. Coping with MDD: What’s the Difference?

Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNP  on April 26, 2017Written by Valencia Higuera on April 26, 2017
major depressive disorder

Although most deal with emotional lows from time to time, major depressive disorder (MDD), also known as clinical depression, is more than a bad day or “the blues.” This disorder can persist for months or years and impact every aspect of your life. Symptoms include:

  • persistent sadness
  • irritability
  • loss of interest in activities
  • changes in appetite
  • anxiety
  • feelings of worthlessness
  • physical aches and pains
  • suicidal thoughts

MDD affects many people — about 14.8 million adults in the U.S. alone, according to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA).

Different factors increase the risk for MDD, such as genetics, stressful events, and childhood trauma. Depression can also develop after being diagnosed with a chronic illness.

Several strategies can help you manage and cope with this disease. The words “managing” and “coping” are sometimes used interchangeably. But when it comes to living with MDD, there’s a difference.

Managing MDD: What does this mean?

MDD can be debilitating. You may feel fine some days, but on others you’re unable to get out of bed and live a normal life. Don’t ignore how you feel. Speaking with your doctor is the first step to managing this condition and improving your emotional and mental health.

Managing MDD involves taking active control of the situation. Rather than sitting back and giving depression authority over your life, you work alongside your doctor in search of an effective therapy to end or lessen the severity of your symptoms.

Even if you can’t cure your depression, the way you manage this illness has a tremendous impact on your day-to-day life.

1. Medication for MDD

If you’ve lived with MDD for a while, in all likelihood you’re taking an antidepressant to manage symptoms. The effectiveness of a specific antidepressant varies from person to person. An important aspect of managing MDD is finding a medication that works for you. Several treatments are available. If the medication you’re currently taking is ineffective, talk to your doctor about switching to a different drug.

You may have to experiment with several different drugs before your symptoms improve. Additionally, managing MDD may require a combination of antidepressants, mood stabilizers, or antipsychotic drugs, depending on the severity of symptoms. Different types of antidepressants include:

  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
  • serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors
  • norephinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors
  • atypical antidepressants
  • tricyclic antidepressants
  • monoamine oxidase inhibitors

2. Psychotherapy for MDD

Some people beat depression with the right combination of drugs, whereas others require additional therapies to overcome negative emotions. Depending on your individual situation, your doctor may recommend psychotherapy to help you manage symptoms.

Also known as talk therapy, psychotherapy is when you seek advice from a mental health doctor. This doctor helps you identify factors contributing to your depression, and offers strategies to reduce symptoms. Some people become depressed because they have unrealistic expectations for themselves. Meanwhile, others battle depression because of traumatic events in their past or because of persistent negative thoughts.

Whatever the underlying reason, psychotherapy helps determine the root of the problem. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective form of psychotherapy. This involves identifying negative thought patterns, and then learning ways to replace these thoughts with positive ones.

Your doctor may recommend treatment at an inpatient residential facility if you’re having suicidal thoughts. These facilities provide a safe, calm place to seek treatment. You’ll receive medication, counseling, and ongoing support.

3. Procedures for MDD

Depression has been linked to low levels of neurotransmitters, which are brain chemicals that sends signals between nerve cells. Neurotransmitters also affect mood, and low levels can trigger depression and anxiety.

When medication or talk therapy doesn’t produce the desired results, talk to your doctor about electroconvulsive therapy, or shock therapy. This therapy alters your brain chemistry and restores normal balance to neurotransmitters, which helps reverse symptoms of depression. While you’re under anesthesia, a device sends electrical currents through your brain, triggering a small seizure. Side effects of this therapy may include memory loss, which is generally temporary, and headache.

Another procedure for managing MDD is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). This is also an option when depression doesn’t respond to medication. This procedure uses magnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells in your brain. The goal is to regulate moods. Unlike electroconvulsive therapy, which provides immediate relief, TMS treatment can take up to six weeks.

Coping with MDD: What does this mean?

Even if you’ve spoken with your doctor about different ways to manage major depression, and you’ve committed to a treatment plan, you may have difficulty accepting your diagnosis. Because MDD can be a lifelong battle, at some point you have to learn how to live with this disorder.

Managing MDD suggests having a strategy or action plan to control symptoms. Coping, on the other hand, is how you handle the situation or come to terms with your illness. A depression diagnosis can be overwhelming. But once you accept the situation for what it is, it’ll be easier to move on with your life.

Here are a few tips for coping with MDD:

1. Know that you’re not alone

If none of your friends or family suffer from depression, it can feel as if you’re alone. You may feel embarrassed or ashamed. But there’s no reason to beat yourself up. Depression is a common mental illness affecting millions of people.

It helps to meet and connect with people who understand how you feel. Talk to your doctor about joining a local support group.

2. Simplify your life

Anxiety can worsen depression symptoms. You can’t remove every stressor in life. But if you have too much on your plate and you’re overwhelmed, know your limitations and remove a few obligations. This provides a balance and helps you maintain better control of your emotions.

3. Write it out

If you’re uncomfortable talking to friends or family about your depression, journaling may help. Don’t keep your feelings bottled up inside. Journaling is a way to express how you feel on paper. If you can make sense of your feelings, you’re more equipped to deal with your emotions.

4. Take care of yourself

Simple lifestyle adjustments can also help you cope with this illness.

Make sure you get plenty of sleep. Insufficient sleep can cause irritability and anxiety.

It’s also important to exercise regularly. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week. This stimulates the production of endorphins and dopamine, which can help you feel better emotionally. Go for a walk, ride your bike, join a fitness class, or play sports you enjoy.

If negative thoughts overtake your mind, jump into an activity or a project. Staying busy takes your mind off your problems. Additionally, don’t skip meals, and do increase your intake of foods containing vitamin B complex. These include:

  • beans
  • eggs
  • chicken
  • citrus fruits
  • leafy greens

5. Choose your associates wisely

Your friends and family can have a positive or negative effect on your emotional health. For that matter, limit contact with toxic or negative people in your life. This includes emotionally abusive people and anyone who makes you feel inferior. Their negativity can rub off on you.

The takeaway

MDD can trigger dark days. But the more you learn about managing and coping with this illness, the easier it’ll be to rise above negative thoughts and enjoy life again.

Don’t suffer silently. Be proactive and talk to your doctor about treatment options.

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