Depression Self-Help

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated July 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Sadness can be a normal human emotion. A healthy individual may experience sadness several times throughout their lifetime. For example, a bad day, an argument with a significant other, or the loss of a pet or family member may cause sadness to arise. However, some individuals experience a pervasive sadness that impedes daily life experiences. This pervasive sadness may be a sign of depression.  

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, major depressive disorder affects more than 16.1 million people annually. Depression is a severe mental health condition affecting mood, socialization, and overall quality of life. However, the condition is treatable, and treatments may reduce symptoms for individuals to regain control of their mental health.

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Types of depression

A few conditions are listed under the depressive disorders category in the DSM-5.

Harvard Medical School lists four main types that can affect any individual: 

  • Major depressive disorder (MDD) 
  • Persistent depressive disorder (PDD)
  • Bipolar disorder 
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) 
New parents may also develop perinatal or postpartum depression during or after pregnancy, and post-menstrual depressive disorder (PMDD) is a type of depression resulting from severe premenstrual syndrome. These types can involve different symptoms and may require different coping mechanisms or treatment than other forms of depression. 
Major depressive disorder
Major depressive disorder involves at least two weeks of an extremely “low mood,” as defined by the American Psychiatric Association, which may involve diminished happiness, anxiety, low self-esteem, loss of interest in activities, or low energy. While the period must be at least two weeks, depression symptoms may last longer. When dealing with a major depressive episode, thoughts of self-harm or suicide can occur. 

If you are experiencing thoughts or urges of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text 988 to talk to someone over SMS. They are available 24/7 to offer support. 

Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia)

Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia) often causes individuals to experience a low mood for at least two years. While the period may extend longer than major depressive disorders, those with persistent depression might not experience the intensity of the symptoms of depression that those afflicted with major depression do. Often, those with persistent depressive disorder experience changes in appetite, a loss of happiness, and a lack of energy.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a unique mental health disorder characterized by instability of emotions. Individuals with bipolar disorder may fluctuate between periods of mania (a hyper-energetic emotional state) and depression. The two periods are often at direct opposite ends of the spectrum, with symptoms of mania presenting as overly high self-esteem, high-risk behavior, unrealistic idealization, and extreme pleasure-seeking behaviors like substance abuse. Depression may appear as periods of isolation, depressive symptoms, or suicidal thoughts, as seen in major depressive disorder.

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Seasonal affective disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a depressive disorder that may appear with the change of seasons, often during the winter or fall months. It is believed to be caused by changes in light or daily rhythms brought about by shortened days. One study found that sunlight lamps were highly effective in treating symptoms of this condition. 

Treatment options for depression

Though you may not necessarily be able to prevent depression, you may be able to learn to manage the symptoms. Due to the number of individuals around the world experiencing these types of depressive disorders, various treatment options are available. These treatments may be specifically tailored to the type of depression that a client has. Some people wonder if when it comes to depression self-help or counseling is the best option. Either can be helpful in managing depression, although combining the two may be the most effective. Because depression can be the result of imbalanced brain chemicals, others also pursue medication management for their symptoms. 

Traditional therapy and professional treatment might be inaccessible to those with financial barriers, and fear of social ostracization can also prevent an individual from seeking therapy. However, some self-help methods could prove unhelpful for individuals experiencing more intense depression. While self-help, therapy, or a combination of the two are often effective, those considering these treatments may first consider their personal experience with depression before deciding which method to pursue.
Self-help treatments
Many self-help treatments for depression may improve mood and quality of life. This avenue involves more than just reading self-help books. Taking care of one’s body through maintaining a nutritious diet, regular exercise, and getting adequate sleep can significantly alleviate depressive symptoms. Additionally, prioritizing meaningful daily activities and connecting with others can fill an individual with a sense of meaning and purpose that might combat depressive symptoms.

Self-help can have the unique capability of being integrated into a daily routine that can last a lifetime. Compared to counseling, self-help can be a more accessible option for many people and may prove valuable. Consider the following options when integrating self-help into your life. 

Socialization

It can be common for individuals experiencing depression to isolate themselves due to decreased energy and loss of enjoyment in everyday activities. They may only interact with peers at work or school and find themselves denying opportunities for social outings outside of mandatory life events. 

While it may seem difficult at first to socialize, such interactions can often allow adults and teens to speak candidly about their experiences. Socialization can allow for a network of peers that may serve as a “safety net” for those with depression, as individuals might feel more comfortable turning to friends or family for help and emotional support. 

Speaking to another person can fight loneliness, a common depressive symptom. Studies show that social connection is also essential to health and wellness. Socialization may reduce feelings of isolation and generate a sense of belonging. Consider what taking the first step might look like, whether reaching out to someone you haven’t talked to for some time or identifying opportunities to connect with others with common interests. Support groups or therapy groups may also be a way to connect with others while targeting your symptoms of depression. 

Exercise

Exercising for at least 150 minutes/week may be recommended for many adults, although daily activity for at least 30 minutes could have benefits. Exercise releases endorphins, chemicals that can improve mood. Exercise during the day can lead to better sleep habits at night, which can support mood. Daily exercise can also improve self-esteem and promote positive self-thoughts, which many individuals with depression may struggle with during depressive episodes.

Mindfulness

Many lifestyles and wellness professionals recommend practicing “mindfulness” to improve physical and mental health. Mindfulness is the practice of recognizing specific activities or habits in your daily life, either positive or negative, without judging yourself for those practices. Staying mindful might encourage individuals to integrate healthy habits and avoid unhealthy or harmful ones.  

By practicing mindfulness, those with depressive disorders could have an easier time recognizing harmful thoughts. Being able to do so may also contribute to the ability to prevent depression symptoms. 

Research has found that mindfulness-based interventions reduce the risk of relapse for those experiencing recurrent depression. Practicing mindfulness in daily life can benefit all groups of people, not just those with depression. However, it can also aid in depressive symptoms. Some therapists may also practice mindfulness in therapy through mindfulness-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). 

Diet

A healthy diet can be effective in preventing and reducing depressive symptoms. Ensuring a healthy balance of vitamins and nutrients can increase energy levels and improve physical health, especially in conjunction with exercise. In addition, keeping a healthy diet may improve self-image. Those with depression are often advised to avoid alcohol and other depressants that may be used as unhealthy coping mechanisms. 

Therapy for depression

Counseling can be provided in many forms, online or in person. Individual, couple, or group-based therapies may also be available, while support groups can offer additional emotional support for depression. 

Psychotherapy, often referred to as “talk therapy,” involves conversations between an individual and a professional about thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Psychotherapy geared towards helping those with depression may take on various forms, including those listed below. 

Cognitive therapy

Cognitive therapy is based on the theory that thoughts can affect an individual’s emotions. Therefore, awareness of thinking patterns may be promoted throughout cognitive therapy. Awareness and challenging negative thoughts to change them can support a person with negative self-talk. 

Behavioral therapy

Behavioral therapy is similar to cognitive therapy. However, it is often based on the idea that behaviors impact an individual’s emotional state. Thus, behavioral therapy is often centered on promoting behaviors that increase well-being and avoiding behaviors that decrease health or well-being. It can teach individuals to engage in activities that promote their mental health and form a healthy, long-term routine around those behaviors.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the combination of cognitive and behavioral therapy into one practice. It centers around addressing changing thinking and behaviors that may affect one’s mental health. In cognitive behavioral therapy, therapist may help individuals pinpoint and address behavioral patterns or automatic thought responses to life experiences that can enhance or detract from an individual’s emotional health. For example, a therapist might help an individual challenge negative beliefs they have about their self-worth, which may be contributing to feelings of sadness or loneliness.

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Combination treatments

While self-help and traditional counseling may both lead to positive outcomes for those struggling with depressive episodes, a combination of the two may prove a more effective treatment. Those attending traditional therapy can benefit from utilizing self-help methods to enhance their experience in counseling. Additionally, a therapist might recommend research-based self-care practices to try at home outside of sessions. 

One study on patients experiencing differing depressive disorders found that a combination of exercise and cognitive-behavioral therapy reduced depression symptoms at a higher rate than using exercise or therapy alone. Lifestyle changes like these may positively affect counseling methods by giving individuals healthy habits or behaviors to replace harmful behaviors. Additionally, clients can discuss their results with their therapist. 

Counseling options 

Reaching out to a therapist can be one way to begin your depression treatment. Even if you are not sure if you are experiencing depression, therapists are trained to treat many mental health conditions, symptoms, and life circumstances. You do not necessarily need a diagnosis or mental health condition to attend therapy. 

Although many individuals living with depression may experience physical and mental exhaustion, a few therapy methods may be more accessible for treatment. Getting up and going to an in-person counseling session can be challenging. In these cases, online therapy may provide a helpful alternative. Online therapists are licensed and experienced providers and can offer support through phone, video, or live chat sessions. Clients can attend sessions from home if they wish, as long as they have a solid internet connection. 

Additionally, studies have found that mindfulness-based online CBT, in particular, was especially effective in reducing symptoms of depression in many clients. Through a platform like BetterHelp, you can talk with a professional counselor from the comfort of your home at a convenient time. A therapist might also suggest self-help practices, such as mindfulness, which you can do from home after sessions. 

Takeaway

Depressive disorders may be inhibitors to a healthy lifestyle. However, there are many treatments to combat the symptoms of depression. There is no one-size-fits-all method, so individuals should study their own experiences with depression and decide which method works best for them. 

Those with mild symptoms may benefit from self-help options such as eating healthier, practicing mindfulness, and exercising more. Those with more severe symptoms could find that the help of a professional is needed. A combination of lifestyle changes and professional therapy may be most effective in coping with depression. If you’re unsure where to start, consider reaching out to a counselor to develop a personalized treatment plan for your symptoms.

Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
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