Depression is one of the most treatable mental health conditions. Almost all people who get proper treatment improve their symptoms. Treatment may include medication or psychotherapy or a combination of both. Treatment also includes avoiding alcohol and recreational drugs, which often worsen depression symptoms.
To diagnose depression, your health care provider will do a physical exam and ask you questions about your feelings and thoughts. Then your doctor will compare your symptoms to those in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association. In some cases, your doctor will do a blood test to make sure you don’t have an underlying medical condition like thyroid disease or a vitamin deficiency that might be contributing to your symptoms.
You and your health care provider will develop a treatment plan together. For most people, that starts with psychotherapy and medication. Psychotherapy, which is sometimes called talk therapy or counseling, involves talking with a professional who can help you identify and change unhealthy emotions, thoughts and behaviors. It can be done on a one-on-one basis or in group therapy sessions. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you might need short-term psychotherapy or long-term psychotherapy, which can take months or even years to see significant improvement.
Prescription medicines can change brain chemistry and relieve depression symptoms. You might need to try several different kinds of antidepressants before you find the one that works best for you. These medications can have side effects, but they usually go away with time.
There are other treatments for depression that involve stimulating the brain’s messaging centers, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). These treatments are used only when other treatments don’t work or aren’t safe for you to use.
Other ways to manage depression include lifestyle changes, such as getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet and exercising daily. You can also reduce stress by practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga or tai chi. In addition, it’s important to spend time with friends and family and talk about your problems. If you don’t have a support network, consider joining a depression or other mental illness support group.
It’s important to stick with your treatment plan. Avoid skipping psychotherapy sessions or medicine. If you stop taking your medications, depression symptoms might come back or you might have withdrawal-like symptoms. And don’t try to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, which can worsen your depression symptoms and can be dangerous. If you’re unsure where to start, your primary care doctor or a local mental health clinic might have referrals for licensed, credentialed therapists. You can also look for a therapist through word of mouth or search online. Some national mental health organizations can provide lists of therapists who specialize in treating depression. You might also check with community groups such as senior centers or religious organizations, which may offer therapy on a sliding-scale fee. You can also participate in a clinical trial, which is a research study that tests new ways to prevent, detect or treat diseases and conditions, including depression.