Treatment Strategies for Depression

Treating depression can be complex. Because of the wide range of treatment options available, it's important to stay informed. Here are some of the more common treatment strategies recommended for depression:

Drugs & Medications

 Drugs and medications are common therapies to help people with depression. They are often supplemented with psychotherapy, lifestyle choices, and other forms of depression therapy.

Medication therapy is a common treatment for depression. Often combined with other therapies, antidepressant medication can help control depression symptoms so you can begin to reclaim your life.

Most antidepressant medications work by altering chemical reactions in the brain. The goal is to affect neurotransmitters, the chemicals that help brain cells communicate with each other.

Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood, sleep, inhibition, and other important brain functions, is the target of most depression medications. Often called the “feel good” neurotransmitter, serotonin helps promote elevated mood and feelings of euphoria. Many experts link depression to low levels of serotonin in the brain. Therefore antidepressants inhibit serotonin from being re-absorbed into the neurons in the brain.

Otherwise known as counseling or talk therapy—is the most common treatment for depression. There are varying styles of therapy a person can use to help overcome his or her depression.

Psychotherapy is the most common depression treatment. It is often used in conjunction with medication, lifestyle changes, and other therapies. Because the term “psycho” has a negative connotation, psychotherapy is more commonly known as counseling, talk therapy, or, simply, therapy.

Psychotherapy involves a patient or patients talking to a trained professional about their feelings, thoughts, stress, and more. This type of therapy is used for many mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety. It can also be used to help troubled relationships, whether they are romantic or family centered.

There are four main psychotherapy formats:
Single: A patient meets one on one with a therapist.
Couples: Spouses or partners meet with a therapist. This format most often involves couples that are trying to work out issues within their relationship or couples in which one person is suffering from a mental illness.
Group: Two or more patients meet with a therapist. Patients are usually suffering after a similar life event (divorce, loss of loved one, etc.) or are battling the same mental illness.
Family: Whole families or members of families meet with a therapist. This format is designed to help families work through problems that are affecting the group as a whole, such as an inability to resolve conflicts or one or more family members suffering from addiction or mental illness.

Alternative Methods
Alternative and complimentary therapies incorporate multiple kinds of treatment, including nutritional supplements, meditation, and other various kinds of therapy.

In addition to psychotherapy and prescription medications, some people suffering from depression use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practices such as meditation to ease their symptoms. In Western culture, CAM is defined as a healing practice that falls outside of the realm of conventional medical treatment.

CAM therapies are often used in combination with medication, psychotherapy, lifestyle changes, and more.

For many alternative therapies, there is plenty of anecdotal support but varied clinical evidence as to their efficacy for treating depression. Although many therapies such as massage, yoga, and meditation are safe, you should always consult a mental health professional to make sure you are following the best treatment plan for your depression.

Nutrition. A plant-based diet can be very helpful because it provides key vitamins and minerals that help to nourish the brain and the body, i.e. B-Complex vitamins, Omega-3 EFAs, antioxidants. More importantly, by avoiding the processed foods and refined sugars, this prevents the sugar crashes and the consumption of food chemicals such as HFCS, PHOs, and artificial sweeteners.

Nutritional Supplements. Nutritional supplements can help your body and mind by providing the nutrients they need. Certain supplements, such as fish oil, valerian root, hops, passionflower, and vitamin B6 can help elevate mood and relieve stress by stimulating the right brain chemicals. Some blends of herbs can help calm a person if anxiety is an issue with depression.

Massage Therapy. The body can store tension and other ill feelings in its muscles. Regular massages can help alleviate muscle tension and some of the heavy-body feeling that often occurs with depression. A lighter, more flexible feeling in your body can make it easier to get out of bed and do the things you want to do.

Acupuncture. Acupuncture is an alternative treatment that uses the placement and manipulation of needles on specific points on the body. For thousands of years, Eastern cultures have used acupuncture to treat conditions from sinus congestion to chronic pain. Studies show acupuncture can help alleviate symptoms of depression by stimulating the flow of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. It can also help alleviate some of the aches and pains often associated with depression.

Acupressure. Like acupuncture, acupressure targets points of the body that are believed to stimulate the body’s natural ability to heal itself. Instead of needles, the fingers are used to apply pressure to points on the body.

Expressive/Music Therapy . Music therapy uses many aspects of music and the music-making process to help people with depression via self-expression. These may include playing music, listening to music, writing songs, and discussing the content and context of lyrics. This therapy is designed to help a person constructively deal with the negative emotions surrounding his or her depression.

Meditation. The act of practicing mindfulness — or being fully aware of the world around you — teaches people to see the world in a different respect. That kind of stress relief and mindset can help people with depression figure out their place in the world or at least help them solve problems that are holding them back.

Guided Imagery. Guided imagery is a type of holistic healing technique that emphasizes the connection between body and mind. Its goal is to release trapped energy in the body and thus lighten the burden on a person with depression. A patient visualizes comfort and relaxation to help steer the unconscious mind toward peace.

Hypnosis. Hypnosis is one way of addressing the repetitive self-deflating thought process associated with depression. By targeting the patient’s subconscious, hypnosis aims to change negative thinking, reduce feelings of guilt and self-blame, and help you make positive choices by not dwelling on past negative actions, thoughts, or experiences.

Sunshine/Light Therapy. Light therapy involves sitting in front of an artificial light for a limited amount of time. Sunshine therapy involves the use of natural light. Both therapies help boost the levels of naturally produced vitamin D in the body, and this elevates mood. These therapies are typically helpful for people suffering from seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression brought on by changes in seasons.

Pet Therapy. Dog is man’s best friend, and when you’re depressed, it’s helpful to have a good friend. Pet therapy pairs a patient with a domestic animal that often goes everywhere with the person. Some feel this type of companionship can elevate moods and provide a sense of connectedness with another creature.

Hydrotherapy. This therapy uses water, such as a large bath or pool, to treat numerous conditions, such as chronic pain or depression. It might involve physical activity in water or soaking in water that has been treated with various salts. These can help alleviate the physical pain or tension associated with depression.

Aromatherapy. As many people believe the sense of smell is associated with emotions (e.g. the calming effect of smelling your favorite food), aromatherapy can help lift moods. Aromatherapy is the use of organic compounds called essential oils to improve a person’s mood, mental state, or health. The oils are extracted from various plant parts, such as roots, seeds, leaves, and blossoms, and can be blended together.

Yoga. Yoga uses multiple poses to stretch muscles of the body, promoting strength, flexibility, detoxification, and more. Yoga is becoming a popular way for people to incorporate exercise into their depression therapy. Many people like yoga because it incorporates a spiritual aspect, is generally a calm practice, and is done in a group setting.

Lifestyle Changes
Changes in your lifestyle, including diet, exercise, and more, are effective ways of complimenting you other depression treatments. Learn More

Treating depression effectively means doing more than taking your medications and going to therapy. The more you adapt your lifestyle to ensure your body and mind are healthy, the more adept you will be at responding to the challenges of depression.

Here are some ways you can improve your lifestyle to complement your depression treatment:
  • Healthy Eating: Avoiding processed foods, foods high in refined sugar, and foods packed with saturated fats should be your first step. These foods either require the body to work harder to digest them or can cause mood fluctuations you don’t want. The next step is to begin incorporating foods that may help elevate moods and fight depression.
  • Exercise: Exercise increases your brain’s production of chemicals, especially its natural antidepressants.
  • Weight Loss: Losing weight not only improves your self-esteem and overall health, but also can give your mind the boost it needs.
  • Meditation: Meditation can help relieve anxiety that sometimes accompanies depression. If depression is disrupting a person’s sleep habits, deep breathing techniques can help calm the mind in order to sleep better.
  • Sleep: Having a calming bedtime routine that helps you wind down and following a consistent sleep schedule can help improve the amount and quality of sleep.
  • Relationships: Depression can be alienating, but the right network of friends and loved ones can help you overcome your problems. Spending time with positive, supportive, and loving people can help you through your darkest times.
  • Stress Management: Stress is a part of life, but chronic, long-term stress can be debilitating, especially for someone with depression

Medical Procedures
Medical procedures are often reserved for people who suffer from severe depression, or are resistant to medications and other types of therapies.

Although medical procedures might be considered extreme and unnecessary for most people with depression, they might finally bring relief for people suffering from chronic, severe major depression if medications, psychotherapy, complementary therapies, and lifestyle changes have not eased their symptoms.

Here are some of the most common medical procedures to treat depression:
  • Deep Brain Stimulation. Deep brain stimulation (DBS) involves the surgical implantation of two electrodes in the section of the brain most clearly associated with depression.
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy. Commonly referred to as “shock therapy,” electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) gets a bad reputation from its early days, when high doses of electricity were administered to patients without anesthesia. ECT is much safer today and involves a small electric current that is sent through the brain while the person is sedated. 
  • Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation. This is a relatively new procedure. Used for drug-resistant epilepsy and depression, it involves applying electrical impulses to the trigeminal nerve, the largest cranial nerve that supplies sensory information from the face and connects to deep portions of the brain.
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. This procedure uses a large electromagnet near the forehead to alter brain activity where the neurotransmitters responsible for mood — serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine—are made. 
  • Magnetic Seizure Therapy. MST uses electromagnetic energy to produce a seizure to hopefully change chemicals and impulses in the brain that affect mood. Like other therapies listed here, it is meant for treatment-resistant depression only.
  • Stereotactic Neurosurgery. This procedure involves the complicated mapping of a person’s brain so that a neurosurgeon can drill small holes in the skull and pass needles or electrodes into brain tissue.

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