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Why Your Depression Treatment Efforts Aren’t Working

Why Your Depression Treatment Efforts Aren't WorkingTackling depression or bipolar sometimes feels like an endless battle against an external invading force in your mind.

Almost everyone I know who suffers from either illness has — at some point or another — come up against the two greatest fighting forces it deploys against anybody seeking to bounce back and thrive: anticipation and inertia.

These powerful forces target your arsenal of depression- or bipolar-fighting strategies. But you can defend yourself and prevail. Here’s a field guide to knowing thy enemy and exploiting their weaknesses.

Anticipation hits when you are in the planning stages of your depression or bipolar battle master plan.

While you’re looking into treatment options, therapies or lifestyle changes which alter your routine, anticipation will deploy a covert team to infiltrate your mind. This task force aims – at first – to gently dissuade you from taking action, by drawing your attention to the negative aspects of what you might be getting yourself into, whether those reflect reality or not.

The more you research, discuss and think about whatever you’re looking into, the more it will seem like a huge commitment that will require a heck of a lot of energy to maintain, involve a lot of effort, cost way too much or is simply too disruptive or inconvenient. You’ll be deterred from taking action, or paralyzed by indecision.

If not, inertia may unleash a full-blown psychological warfare operation, leaving you mistakenly identifying with the illness (thinking “I am depressed”) and feeling like you’ll never get better. You’re a lost cause and you’ll always be depressed, so what’s the point in trying and spending all this time, money and effort?

If you give up at this point, then it’s mission accomplished for the anticipation forces. But reinforcements are on hand to mount a successful defense: the emotional support, compassion, inspiration and strength you can draw from your friends or loved ones, supportive medical expert, therapy group or simply by reading the stories of others who faced similar battles, and how they won.

Encouragement — and a reality check — from someone else that you can get better and that the treatment, therapy or strategy isn’t really as arduous as it seems in your mind, or seeing the advance reconnaissance reports from others who have benefited from it, may help counter an attack of anticipation and serve as the boost you need to take action.

But taking action sustainably involves making a commitment to your chosen approach and introducing some changes to your lifestyle and routine. These require discipline to stick to them and make them work so that you can reap the rewards.

You do have to be vigilant, because it’s at this point that anticipation withdraws and inertia begins a campaign of attrition to gradually wear you down.

At first, you’ll have the energy needed to commence your chosen action plan. But without ongoing encouragement and support, that energy may eventually drain, along with your motivation or belief in your chosen approach and whether it will actually help you. This is especially true if you expected — and aren’t seeing — fast and early results.

But even if you knew it would take time, the day after day, week after week commitment to your approach — the regimen of medication, travel and attendance at group or therapy sessions, or getting up earlier to exercise or eating foods you don’t find as enjoyable — can eventually sap your morale.

Eventually, you’ll feel it’s all a hard, thankless, pointless slog, to the point where you just can’t be bothered continuing with your chosen plan anymore. Once this happens, inertia reports back ‘objective complete’ to depression or bipolar HQ, and you’re right back where you started.

A strong defense to inertia is regular motivation and encouragement, and this can take many forms. You might choose to go exercising with a friend, who knocks on your door each morning so that you can’t ignore them and stay in bed. Or you may treat yourself to your favorite snack after day or week’s activity (so long as you don’t overdo it, little rewards like this are perfectly okay with a general move toward eating more healthily). Maybe you take yours or a neighbor’s dog out for a walk – it’s hard to resist their infectious energy!

Alternatively, subscribing to depression or bipolar blogs or support groups on Facebook can have your inbox, news feed or phone abuzz with motivational support, stories and quotes on a regular basis, a more subtle, but still beneficial, source of ongoing motivation.

Need a Little Boost to Help with Your Depression?

I want to take you to boot camp, break down your old, negative mood and work with you to build up an improved, fighting fit and thriving mood, using a technique that three in four people who act on it find beneficial for them.

It’s the 30 Day Mood Boost Challenge.

Sign up and you’ll receive daily e-mails straight to your inbox, with a small thing you can do each day, an encouraging story and why and how this will help improve your mood. Over time, these build into a new routine and sustainable lifestyle changes that boost your mood, well-being, relationships with others and, most important, yourself.

You will see depression or bipolar in a different light, have more energy and relate to the illness differently, making it easier to take action to recover from and manage an episode of depression and live a thriving life.

It’s up to you to act each day, but so far, 75 percent of more than 600 people who took the challenge and acted (I only launched it a few weeks ago) found the 30 Day Mood Boost Challenge improved their mood.

It’s free and provides covering fire against anticipation and inertia while you build up your forces to follow your chosen treatment plan. I hope you find it helpful! Click here to sign up today.

Why Your Depression Treatment Efforts Aren’t Working

Graeme Cowan

Graeme Cowan’s book, Back From The Brink, brings you true stories from well-known and everyday people, and practical help for overcoming depression and bipolar disorder. Touching, moving and often surprising, the stories in Back From The Brink are living proof that you too can overcome depression, using the tools and resources provided in the book.

He went through a five-year episode of depression which his psychiatrist described as the worst he had ever treated and which nearly cost him his life. But after writing his suicide note in 2004, Graeme found the help and support he needed to bounce back and thrive, and has dedicated his life to helping others do the same.

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APA Reference
Cowan, G. (2018). Why Your Depression Treatment Efforts Aren’t Working. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 20 Mar 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.