Depression affects a person’s mood and can make it difficult to think or act in healthy ways. It’s a common mental health condition that’s treatable. People of all ages can have depression, and it can be a side effect of some drugs or medications. In addition, genetic and developmental factors, exposure to trauma or abuse, and significant life events or stress can increase the risk of depression.
Depression can seem intractable and permanent, but it is generally one of the most treatable mental disorders. Almost everyone who receives treatment finds relief from symptoms. Some people may need a combination of treatments, such as psychotherapy and medication.
The first step in getting help is to talk to a health professional. A therapist can provide valuable insight into the causes of your depression and offer tools to cope with the disorder. The therapist will assess your symptoms, and ask questions about your family and medical history. They will also ask whether there are any warning signs to look out for.
Many therapists use an approach called bio-psycho-social medicine. They view depression as a complex disorder that’s most likely caused by overlapping biological, psychological and social factors. They may also do a physical examination, and check for thyroid problems or vitamin deficiencies that can cause depression-like symptoms.
Psychotherapy (talk therapy) can help you identify and change unhealthy emotions and thoughts. Various types of psychotherapy exist, but cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is usually the most effective. CBT teaches you to recognize the negative thoughts that contribute to depression and how to replace them with realistic, positive ones.
Antidepressants are sometimes used in combination with psychotherapy to treat depression. They work by changing the way your brain chemicals interact. The type of antidepressant you are prescribed will vary, and it may take time to find the right one for you.
Regular exercise, good sleep habits and a balanced diet are important in treating depression. It’s also important to interact frequently with others, especially those who bring you up, and avoid isolation or loneliness.
Alternative therapies, such as acupuncture and meditation, can be helpful. However, they should never be a substitute for medical care.
Keeping a “negative thought log,” in which you write down every negative thought you have, can be useful. You can then review the log and see which types of thoughts are contributing to your depression.
If your depression is severe or persistent, you may need more advanced treatments. These may include electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, which uses brief electrical currents to change the function and activity of neurotransmitters in your brain to relieve depression. Another option is transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, in which a coil placed against your scalp sends magnetic pulses to targeted areas of the brain. ECT and TMS are typically used only for people who haven’t responded to other treatments.