I have had a lifetime of experience with depression beginning when I was 16. I have been treated for depression many times with both psychotherapy and drugs. In 2002, I became a student of depression treatment because I was tired of cycling in and out of misery.
I am an organizational psychologist and in the last 17 years I have been able to review a great deal of treatment research. I have tried a number of techniques and I have heard the stories of hundreds of individuals that I have had the good fortune to be with in support groups.
I have found that being involved in a support group that spends some of its time discussing scientifically-based depression treatment options are particularly helpful. So much that I changed careers and now help people from all over the world get the support they need.
I have also learned that there is no “silver bullet” treatment for depression – everyone has to try a number of things to find the lifestyle prescription that works for them.
What follows are some of the major things that I have learned about depression treatment. These are just summary points, so I have included a list of books that you might want to read to learn more. Most of these points also apply to bipolar disorder since most individuals who have that diagnosis are Type 2 and largely experience depression.
Here’s what I have learned in no particular order:
- If you think of depression as a complex set of poor mental health and lifestyle habits you can create a lot more treatment options for yourself. This also means that you also remain responsible for your treatment and don’t become dependent on others for your wellness.
- Support groups are very helpful because they provide a safe place for you to share your experiences, learn from others and be encouraged to try new things. Participants often find that what they are experiencing is not unique and others may have great ideas about how to address common issues.
- Depression treatment education is a foundation for understanding ourselves and learning about the treatment options that we can try. For years I went along with getting therapy and taking drugs to treat my depression – I wasn’t learning very much about what I could do to help myself on a lasting basis.
- Yes, you do have a “chemical imbalance” in your brain when you are depressed. But no, we don’t know if that is a cause of depression or the result of depression. There is no one neurotransmitter that causes depression. When scientists look for a minute or simple cause of depression they are being “reductionist;” i.e. they are looking for a very simple explanation for a complex set of symptoms. While some people may have a predisposition to having depression, it is extremely unlikely that there is one physical cause.
- Antidepressants and other psychotropic drugs mask symptoms – they don’t really treat the cause of depression. Also they actually don’t mask symptoms much better than a placebo (sugar pill) and they can have significant side effects – both short and long term. Mixtures of antidepressants and other drugs are almost completely untested by the FDA or anyone. The mixtures are created by your doctor – they are not scientifically-based treatments.
- Your brain chemistry can be changed without the use of drugs. This is called neuroplasticity – the ability of your brain to adapt to situations, learn new things and create new habits.
- Good sleep habits are really important for battling depression. If you can get seven to nine hours sleep a night your stress level will go down and you will be better equipped to deal with whatever life sends your way. When you are depressed your sleep might not be very regular. You may have trouble getting to sleep, waking up early or sleeping too much. Often you can improve your sleep by practicing good sleep habits and being patient until your sleep improves.
- Aerobic or cardiovascular exercise can also be very helpful. It can reduce your stress level and help you sleep better. It can be hard to start exercising or to stay with an exercise plan. It’s really important to find a way to exercise that is fun and compelling. It’s also important to not be hard on yourself if you don’t keep up with your exercise plan and need to restart.
- There are over 200 different types of psychotherapy but only a few that have been shown to help with depression. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy are some that can help. Therapists may tell you that they use some of these techniques but many therapists create their own approach – a blend that may or may not be effective. You should consider changing therapists if you don’t believe that you are learning new ways to reduce depression.
- There is a lot of evidence that practicing mindfulness can help you reduce your stress level, become more self-aware, be more self-accepting and deal more effectively with depression over the long term. There is a special program called Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression that is particularly effective. It can reduce your tendency to relapse by 50%, a huge decrease if you have had multiple bouts of depression.
- Bright light therapy can help up to 80% of people who have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – the kind of depression that some people experience in the winter when the days are shorter. It can also help energize depression sufferers in general. If you get exposure to sunlight or bright light (10,000 lux of light or more) for 30 to 60 minutes early in the day, you can feel an improvement in your energy and mood within a couple of weeks. Be careful using bright light therapy if you have a Bipolar Depression diagnosis. Talk with your doctor about how to try this out.
- Being clear about who you are and where you are going in your life is very important. If you don’t have a realistic sense of your goals you will frequently be frustrated and more prone to getting depressed. It can be really helpful to have a personal mission statement where you describe what you believe to be your life’s purpose.
- Eating a healthy diet can help your mood to stay more even. You may want to have a mid-morning and mid-afternoon healthy snack to keep your energy level more constant. Fluctuations in your energy level can worsen depression-related mood changes.
It’s really important to take responsibility for your recovery, keep working at it and be patient with yourself. Winston Churchill, who suffered with depression, told the British people during World War II – “Never, never, never give up!” – some good words to live by.
Recommended Book List
- Feeling Good, by David D. Burns
- When Panic Attacks, by David D. Burns
- The Mindful Way through Depression, by Williams, Teasdale, Segal and Kabat-Zinn
- The Depression Cure, by Stephen Ilardi
- Anatomy of an Epidemic, by Robert Whitaker
- Psychiatryland, by Phillip Sinaikin
Vincent F. Caimano, Ph.D., email@example.com.
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Author Bio: Vince Caimano is an organizational psychologist who has learned a lot about how to deal with his experience with depression. It caused him to change careers. He now heads up www.SupportGroupsCentral.com which provides support groups to people in over 130 countries.
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
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