Medically reviewed by Jill Johnson, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 5/22/2021
Whether you’re here for yourself or for a loved one, congratulations.
Congratulations are in order because one of the hardest parts of tackling depression is deciding to start looking into treatments.
First steps are difficult for loved ones, but they’re especially difficult if you’re suffering from depression yourself.
Depressed people avoid seeking treatment for a variety of reasons, which might include anxiety, social stigma or a general and persistent lack of motivation.
And they do themselves a disservice, because this is the one time you should try the hardest to push past those feelings.
So, if you’re here, you have taken a step towards recovery, and all we want to say is we’re really proud of you, man.
Let’s walk you through some of the potential treatments options available.
Before we do that though, let’s take a brief moment to talk about what depression is and how it functions.
It’ll help you better understand the importance of treatment, and how different treatments work.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) depression is a mood disorder characterized by ongoing patterns of feeling down, sad, empty inside or a loss of interest in daily activities.
If those feelings and thoughts are strong enough to have effects on your life, you may be experiencing depression.
There are different kinds of depression that may affect each individual in different ways, with highs and lows.
Some forms of depression like Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), usually occur in late fall and winter during the colder months.
Major depression affects all aspects of a person’s life (e.g. sleeping, working, eating, etc.) usually for a period of at least two weeks.
Persistent depressive disorder is characterized by a low mood that can last two years or much longer. Often, one or two other signs of depression will be present, too.
There is research to suggest various biological, genetic, psychological and environmental factors may have an impact on depression.
Typically, people will show depression symptoms with a variety of mood issues like anger, exhaustion or irritability.
It can lead to sleep issues, reckless behavior and substance abuse, and cause you to lose interest in things you like, cause your weight to fluctuate or give you suicidal thoughts.
It may even cause physical symptoms, like stomach issues.
Sounds pretty bad, right? So, what do you do to get rid of it? You get treatment.
There are several proven effective depression treatment options, and we’re going to stick with those, because individually or together they’ll create the best plan for you to face your depression.
The three most effective treatments are medication, therapy and lifestyle modifications. Let’s look at each of them.
Antidepressants may seem complicated, but really, they’re fairly straightforward medications.
Antidepressant medications work by manipulating the serotonin levels in your brain or how your brain interacts with serotonin to help regulate your mood disorder.
Research has shown that all of the medications on the market today are nearly identical in their efficacy, but the main differences come from their side effects, drug interactions, and frequency of dose.
A comprehensive review of 66 research studies found that tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) were the most effective types of medications available today.
TCAs fight depression by keeping more serotonin in your brain. They’ve been around since the 1950s, and may cause side effects such as dry mouth, constipation and dizziness.
TCAs also are sometimes used to treat migraines and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
According to the Mayo Clinic, SSRIs are the most commonly prescribed antidepressant medication.
They work by blocking serotonin from being reabsorbed by neurons. The end result is that there’s a larger supply of serotonin available for transmission.
SSRI side effects can include weight changes, sleep issues, increased anxiety and they can also cause headaches, dizziness, dry mouth or sexual dysfunction.
Antidepressants can actually be prescribed pretty early on — as soon as two weeks after symptoms have set in. They’re neither addictive nor habit forming.
Some can cause side effects when the medication is stopped, and you should consult with your healthcare provider before stopping a course of any medication, as side effects can include things like increased thoughts of suicide.
Therapy isn’t all couches and Sopranos monologues, though there is an element of that in some cases.
In fact, there are many forms of therapy that are used to treat a variety of disorders and conditions.
One of the most effective and well-known forms of therapy for depression is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
CBT is essentially a system for recognizing dysfunctional thought patterns — thoughts that are negative and counterproductive — and learning to control them by being conscious of how they affect you.
Your most effective therapy system might involve other practices like psychotherapy, and it might make use of therapeutic techniques like mindful meditation, which helps you focus on being aware of your feelings at that moment, without interpretation or judgment.
Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress .
We’ve said that most of this will start with a mental health professional helping you define your symptoms, needs and treatments, but there’s actually a reason to talk with your regular healthcare provider as well, so they can examine you and determine if that are any lifestyle choices or conditions you are unaware of that may be contributing to your depression.
Common examples of lifestyle issues that could cause obesity are things like weight, diet, blood pressure, exercise and substance use.
Talking to a healthcare professional will help minimize and possibly eliminate some of the potential lifestyle causes of depression.
For instance, starting an exercise regimen has been shown in some cases to be as effective as drugs.
There are a variety of treatment options available to you if you’re suffering from symptoms of depression. The first step is to talk to someone about your problems.
We can offer you a variety of resources, like our complete guide to depressive symptoms, and our “Am I Depressed” Checklist. We also have a guide on a more alternative approach of hypnosis for depression. But we can’t take that first step for you.
There are a lot of uncertainties ahead, but there’s little to be scared of. This will be a trial and error process, because what works for friends or family won’t necessarily work for you.
The best treatment may very well be a combination of two or more types of treatment we listed here.
If you’re struggling right now, talk to a friend, family member, or trusted resource, but take the next step after that: schedule an online psychiatry evaluation with a mental health professional for personalized advice and treatment.
You’ll be glad you took the first step when you can look back on your progress.