When we're feeling down or disappointed, we may treat ourselves to something special, talk about it with friends, or distract ourselves with hobbies or work. And for occasional sadness triggered by a life change or a change in seasons, simple coping strategies combined with the passage of time are often effective.
It's normal and healthy to be sad sometimes, but when those feelings begin to interfere with your daily life, aren't connected to life events, or persist for weeks on end, you should consider seeking help.
What is depression?
The American Psychiatric Association defines depression (major depressive disorder) as "a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act, depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person's ability to function at work and at home." Common symptoms also include disturbed sleep or too much sleep, fatigue, unexpected weight loss or gain, guilt, trouble concentrating, and thoughts of death or suicide.
If these symptoms last for two weeks or more, you may be experiencing depression and would likely benefit from the help of a therapist or counselor, but it's important that you also mention these symptoms to your family doctor. Vitamin deficiencies and other medical problems can contribute to feelings of depression.
Depression affects about one in six people sometime during their lives, making it one of the most common psychiatric disorders. It's more common among women than men, and it often manifests for the first time among teens or young adults.
If you choose to work with a counselor, you'll be guided toward therapy that's tailored to your individual symptoms and situation, but most good plans for treating depression include talk therapy as an aspect of the treatment.
Benefits of Natural Treatment for Depression
Many people struggling with depression today are nervous about starting antidepressant medications and are interested in how to treat depression naturally. If the depressive episode is somewhat mild or has not been present for very long, that might be something to try. Many therapists now reserve the recommendation of antidepressants for depression that is severe or unresponsive to talk therapy.
Treating depression without medication eliminates the possibility of unpleasant side effects. Antidepressants aren't all the same, but in general, side effects may include: anxiety, dizziness, constipation, insomnia, fatigue, nausea, and loss of sexual desire. These side effects have the potential to affect patients' quality of life and should be weighed carefully against the benefits of using antidepressant medications.
Sometimes it's clear that a natural depression treatment isn't appropriate, as in cases of depression that don't respond to talk therapy or that include severe symptoms like thoughts of suicide or inability to function. But even in cases treated with medication, a 2004 Consumer Report notes that some studies seem to show-and many experts are convinced-that antidepressants are more effective when combined with talk therapy. Another benefit of talk therapy is that it has no known side effects.
Sometimes therapists recommend medication in combination with talk therapy at the start of treatment to help get symptoms under control with the intent of trying to wean off of the medication after things seem to have stabilized.
It's normal to be nervous about the idea of talking to a therapist for the first time, but talk therapy is considered an important part of most every major depressive disorder treatment plan and is a way of treating depression naturally without side effects and optimizing the effectiveness of antidepressant medication.
Treatments for Depression
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy isn't as complicated as it sounds. It's one of the most widely-used forms of talk therapy for the treatment of depression. The premise is simple: the way we feel is tied to the way we think and the behaviors that we have. We all talk to ourselves, even if we don't usually do it out loud. And that self-talk is an important part of our psychology. What are we saying to ourselves? Are we making optimistic or pessimistic predictions? Are we talking to ourselves about our strengths or just our weaknesses? Do we dwell on small things or minor missteps? People who are depressed usually have specific patterns of thinking that contribute to feelings of sadness or guilt. A qualified therapist can help identify unhealthy thought patterns and help implement a plan to change them.
When you're experiencing depression, it's normal to doubt the idea that simply talking to someone can change the way you feel, but one large review of the research found cognitive behavioral therapy slightly superior to the use of antidepressants alone in treating adult depression.
Here's a specific example of how cognitive behavioral therapy might work:
Wendy used to love going out with her friends, but she's just not interested anymore and wishes they'd stop inviting her. Her therapist asks her what she thinks when her friends invite her to go out with them. Wendy thinks about it and replies, "I won't have any fun. And my bad mood will bring everyone down anyway. I should stay home." Her therapist tries to help her understand why she's making that prediction and brainstorms with her about other ways the evening could go. Depending on their conversation, Wendy's therapist may make a suggestion for the next time she's invited out. Wendy could say to herself, "I might have fun tonight, and my friends want to spend time with me even when I'm not the life of the party. I should go."
Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is a treatment for depression that focuses on interpersonal relationships. It's important to understand that depression isn't found to be caused by unhealthy relationships or poor social skills, but depression has profound effects on every relationship in a person's life. And those effects are often isolating, damaging long-term relationships and support networks. IPT is a manual-based treatment, meaning that it strictly follows a specific process that has been supported by evidence. IPT is a short-term treatment option (12 to 16 sessions) and is sometimes used as one part of a bigger treatment plan. Patients look at specific interpersonal patterns that may cause hardship, and their therapist works with them to solve those problems.
The first few sessions are spent getting used to the ideas behind IPT, figuring out how severe symptoms are, and making a list of possible interpersonal issues to focus on. These usually fall into the categories of conflict, role changes, grief, or a lack of quality or quantity of interpersonal relationships. The therapy only focuses on one or two problems so that there's time to improve targeted areas. The goal is to build interpersonal skills and gain the ability to identify and correct problem areas. The goals is that the patient will develop new skills to be used even after therapy has ended. Many patients continue to show improvement months after sessions have ended as they build new relationships and apply the skills they learned while working with their therapist.
Problem-solving therapy is a cognitive behavioral approach that focuses on specific problems, interpersonal or not. It's more open-ended than IPT and doesn't have a set end date, but the ideas behind it are similar.
By working with a therapist to identify coping strategies that work, coping skills are improved, and patients can learn to identify poor coping strategies on their own. Inadequate or unhealthy coping skills can significantly contribute to the symptoms of depression.
Effective coping strategies are important because not all problems can be "solved." For example, Scott's son may have a chronic illness that's difficult for Scott to cope with. Scott doesn't have control over whether his son is unwell or not, but he can change the way he copes with his son's illness.
The question of how to treat depression depends on the severity of symptoms and also whether or not the depression has a specific cause. In order to understand how certain types of depression are treated, it's important to look at a few special cases.
Depression Treatment Centers
For severe cases of depression, treatment is sometimes most effective in an institutional setting. When severe depression symptoms make living a normal life impossible, patients may choose to enter a depression treatment center. Symptoms that lead a person (or their family) to consider a depression treatment center include frequent thoughts of suicide, impaired functioning, and psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions. Depression treatment centers are often reserved for depression that is considered "treatment-resistant," meaning symptoms haven't responded to talk therapy or medication. The benefits include multiple therapy sessions each day, close monitoring of medication to achieve the optimum dosage and combination of drugs, and a break from everyday stressors that allows patients to focus on feeling better.
If you or a loved one experience symptoms of depression within a year of giving birth, postpartum depression may be to blame. This isn't just feeling nostalgic for the freedom of pre-baby days or feeling a little down because of lack of sleep. This is a serious psychiatric disorder that has similar symptoms to major depressive disorder. Symptoms can also include difficulty bonding with the baby, intense feelings of guilt, and obsessive thoughts (sometimes about harming the baby). Anyone who has symptoms of depression during the postpartum period should seek help from their care provider.
Though it's usually difficult to pinpoint a single cause for depression, vitamin and mineral deficiencies seem to play a role in some cases. There are a variety of vitamins and minerals that can play a role in depression including folate, vitamin D, and magnesium (just to name a few). Working with a therapist is still recommended in these cases, but planning a careful diet that includes all key nutrients may be quite helpful as well.
Whatever may be causing your depressive symptoms, it is always a good idea to seek the guidance of a professional. They can help you come to an informed conclusion about causes and treatment options. Sometimes depression can also remit on its own, however it is better to seek help than to wait it out. Ultimately, you want to make yourself and your mental health a priority so that you can begin to feel better as quickly as possible.
Below are commonly asked questions on this topic:
What is considered the most effective treatment for depression?
What is the most widely used treatment for depression?
What helps depression besides meds?
Can depression be treated successfully?
What is the first line treatment for depression?
Is there a medication that treats both depression and anxiety?
What are the top 3 antidepressants?
What vitamin is a natural antidepressant?
What do you do when antidepressants don't work?
Do antidepressants shorten your life?