For many people with depression, life can feel like a dark hole they cannot escape from. They may not be able to laugh, cry or express emotions the way other people do. They might be unable to think or concentrate well. Their relationships and work suffer. Some experience fatigue, aches and pains and trouble sleeping. Depression is a serious illness, but it can be treated with medication and therapy.
Depression can be triggered by a lot of different things, including major life events such as job loss or divorce, a health crisis or death of a loved one. It is also thought that depression can run in families, but researchers don’t know what exactly causes it. They do know that multiple genes interact with each other in special ways to create a person’s risk of depression.
Getting diagnosed and treatment early is important. If you have 5 or more of the symptoms for at least 2 weeks, it is a good idea to see your healthcare provider for a mental health exam and medical history. If you have other health problems such as heart disease or cancer, it is even more important to get a diagnosis and treatment right away.
Treatment options include psychotherapy, which is talk therapy with a licensed and credentialed therapist. The therapist helps you identify and change unhealthy emotions, thoughts and behaviors. It’s most often cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which works to help you challenge distorted thoughts and improve your relationships. Other types of psychotherapy that treat depression include interpersonal and group therapy. Some people benefit from a short course of psychotherapy, while others continue therapy for months or even years.
You can also try relaxation techniques such as meditation, progressive muscle relaxation and yoga to relax. Exercise is another great stress buster that can boost mood. You should also avoid alcohol and drugs, as they can worsen your symptoms. If you are depressed, it’s important to reach out to family and friends and to participate in social and religious activities. You can also find support groups online or at local churches, senior centers and community mental health clinics that offer services on a sliding fee scale.
In addition to therapy and lifestyle changes, you can take medicine to change the chemicals in your brain that affect your mood. It can take 4 to 6 weeks for these medicines to have a full effect. Some people have to switch medications or increase or decrease their dose to find the right balance that works for them.
For some people who do not respond to medication, vagus nerve stimulation surgery can be helpful. In this procedure, doctors put a pacemaker-like device in your chest with wires that lead to the left vagus nerve in your neck. The device sends out regular electrical impulses to the nerve and studies show it can improve depression when used along with other treatments.