Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 11/14/2021
Major life events can have a big impact on our mental health. From the death of a loved one, to a breakup or lost job, there are plenty of things that can happen in your life to trigger some sadness and, in more serious cases, depression.
Feeling depressed is nothing to be ashamed of—in fact, many people struggle with depression at least once in their lifetime.
But when the symptoms of depression start to affect your everyday life, it might be time to seek treatment for depression.
One of the most comprehensive approaches to depression treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
When used effectively, it can be an excellent coping mechanism for dealing with severe depression, moderate depression and any other form you might be struggling with.
To understand why it’s so effective, first we need to look at what CBT is.
Cognitive behavioral therapy for depression is a therapeutic system that “rewires” your brain through practice to navigate away from negative thought patterns, and toward healthier ones — especially in challenging situations.
Clinical efficacy for CBT is overwhelmingly positive. Certain cognitive therapy processes (a mixture of affirmation and negative thought interventions) have been seen to benefit struggling single mothers.
But with CBT, it’s not just about breaking negative thought cycles—it’s about replacing those cycles with new, more beneficial habits and behaviors, and making those your default reaction settings.
We’ve talked more about CBT in our guide, What Is Psychotherapy & How Does It Work?.
To understand how CBT can be beneficial for treatment of depression, you need to understand depression.
Clinical depression is a mood disorder characterized by recurring patterns of negative feelings (sadness, down moments). These can hinder your ability to function and accomplish your goals.
Depression symptoms may include: anger, exhaustion, frequent and unexplainable irritability, sudden reckless behavior and increased substance abuse — not to mention the rare but serious suicidal thoughts.
There are several that are common, including Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which often causes depressive symptoms in winter months.
Long-term depression is also known as persistent depressive disorder because it can last two years or sometimes more.
A shorter, more intense period of depression than depressive disorder lasting at least two weeks is referred to as major depression.
We know that various biological, genetic, psychological and environmental factors can trigger depression in individuals, though the medical community doesn’t fully understand why.
So where does CBT come into the equation?
It turns out that CBT is effective in treating a variety of disorders, including depression, anxiety disorder, eating disorders and more. Patients learn to break the thought cycles that make these feelings recur.
CBT is a great tool for depression, because it’s designed to help you realize when you’re having depressive thoughts in the moment, and respond to them appropriately. The long-term goal is to eventually break the control these thoughts have over you.
How CBT does this may differ person to person. CBT can approach your depression in many ways, and it may integrate into your daily life in many forms.
You may be taught to employ CBT throughout the day to keep “on track,” or only use CBT when you begin feeling yourself getting “derailed” (that’s why they call it “retraining” your brain).
And while CBT does have a core conceptual formula, the great thing about CBT is that you’ll be taught to employ it how you need to, when you need to, to get the results you want.
Unlike many medications and other therapeutic strategies, this means that someone well trained in CBT can essentially mold the CBT formula to fit their needs.
That may mean more frequent employment of the technique, or it might simply mean using CBT to tell you when to use other techniques.
Your most effective therapy system might involve CBT, but may also include practices like psychotherapy or techniques like mindful meditation, both of which are designed to help folks become more aware of their feelings.
Skills like breathing techniques and guided imagery meditation may also help you learn to relax and respond to stress in a healthy way.
In addition to things like psychotherapy and mindfulness, there might be other options to help you fight depression alongside your CBT toolbox. One of these is medication, like antidepressants.
Antidepressant medications may be a great partner to CBT. They work by manipulating the serotonin levels in your brain to regulate your mood disorder chemically.
Research has shown that the medications on the market today are nearly identical in efficacy. The main differences are side effects, other drug interactions and dose frequency.
It’s also worth noting that not all drugs work the same for every person, and that working with your healthcare provider to find the right one for you is an essential part of the process.
There’s a lot of data to back these medications. A comprehensive review of 66 separate research studies found specifically that tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and the more popular serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) were the most effective types of medications available today.
TCAs are designed to fight depression by keeping more serotonin in your brain. They are also sometimes used off-label to treat migraine symptoms and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
SSRIs are the most commonly prescribed antidepressant medication.
They work by blocking neurons from reabsorbing serotonin. This leaves a larger supply of serotonin available for transmission in your brain.
And these medications aren’t something you have to wait for. Antidepressants can be prescribed as soon as two weeks after symptoms begin to show.
They’re not considered habit forming, but some can cause side effects when stopped, so consult with a healthcare provider before abruptly discontinuing the medication—this can lead to increased thoughts of suicide for some.
How you treat your depression might be up to you in part, but finding the best tools for that fight is going to require talking to a professional for guidance.
A healthcare professional will tailor the perfect treatment for your needs, which may include CBT. But there might be much more to it.
They may recommend diet and exercise changes to combat other potential causes of depression.
Besides, starting an exercise regimen can be as effective as drugs for psychological health, in some cases.
Finding the right formula for your treatment is just a few steps away. The first of those? Contacting a mental health professional and trying online counseling with Hims.