Overcoming depression: Treatment
October 3rd, 2023
Torben Bergland, MD
The goal in the treatment of depression is full recovery and prevention of new episodes.
When is it time to seek treatment?
Whenever your depressive symptoms last for more than two weeks, when they significantly interfere with your ability to function, or when you have thoughts of suicide or death, it's time to seek treatment as soon as possible. There are many treatment options. Most cases of depression will significantly improve with appropriate treatment.
What is the strategy for treating depression?
We start with the basics of self-care, optimizing psychosocial support and lifestyle. Then we try some counseling or psychotherapy. If this isn't sufficient, or when the depression is already severe, then we'll go on to try out medication and possibly hospitalization. If we still haven't achieved recovery, then various brain stimulation therapies may help.
Let's talk about the two most common treatment options: psychotherapy and medication.
Another term for psychotherapy is “talk therapy:” Talking about what you think, feel, and do. In psychotherapy, a therapist will guide you in processing what’s happening in the present, maybe what happened in the past, and plan for the future. The goal is to resolve issues you are struggling with. Psychotherapy helps normalize brain activity, especially in the thinking and feeling parts of the brain.
Antidepressants affect how nerve cells communicate through specific neurotransmitters like serotonin and noradrenaline. But beyond that, they also stimulate the growth of nerve cells and reduce inflammation. Thus, they contribute to healing the brain dysfunctions of depression.
Antidepressants take time to work, often at least two weeks. It's, therefore, important to be patient and not expect immediate effects. If the desired effect isn't achieved, a higher dose or change to another antidepressant may be successful.
When starting or stopping with an antidepressant, do so according to the instructions given by your doctor. Stopping abruptly may cause unpleasant symptoms, but antidepressants are not addictive.
Psychotherapy and antidepressants have complementary effects on the depressed brain. Therefore, combining the two may be an effective recovery strategy. If you are suffering from depression, get a professional evaluation and start the recommended treatment. The sooner you start, the easier and faster you may recover.
Still, be patient. Depression takes time to heal. And, since depression is so complex, you may have to try out different therapies or medications until you find which one helps you recover. Don't give up until you've found what works for you.
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