This article outlines some general treatment information and guidelines for the treatment of clinical depression (major depressive disorder). There are a wide variety of treatment options available for depression, and it’s highly likely you will find one — or a combination — that works for you.
Research studies do not predict individual responses to a specific depression treatment. In other words, just because it works for some (or even most) people does not mean it will work for you. It’s important to keep this in mind as you or a loved one undergoes treatment for depression, because the first treatment or set of treatments you try may not be effective.
Most clinicians practicing today believe that depression is caused by an equal combination of biological (including genetics and bacterial), social, and psychological factors. A treatment approach that focuses exclusively on one of these factors is not likely to be as beneficial as a treatment approach that addresses both psychological and biological aspects (through, for example, psychotherapy and medication).
Depression is a complex disorder and researchers are only beginning to fully grasp the multitude of factors — personal, genetic, biological, societal, gut bacteria, neurological, and environmental — that are involved. Any explanation or approach which emphasizes only one factor as the cause of depression is misleading and simplistic.
Treatment for depression, like for most mental disorders, usually relies on a combination of both psychotherapy and medication for the quickest, strongest effects. Treatment usually begins immediately after the initial clinical interview with a mental health professional. A mental health specialist is recommended in the treatment of this condition. Relying on a general practitioner or family doctor for treatment alone is likely to result in prolonging the length of the depressive episode, or failure of treatment altogether.
Learn more: Psychotherapy, Medication or Both?
Depression treatment takes time, and patience is needed. The effects of medications will usually be felt within 8 weeks of taking an antidepressant, but not everyone feels better after taking the first prescribed medication. Some antidepressants don’t work for everyone. You may have to try 2 or 3 different medications before finding the one that works for you. The same may also be true for psychotherapy — the first therapist may not be the one you end up working with. Most modern psychotherapy treatment for depression takes 6 to 12 months, going once per week for 50 minutes at a time.
Topics covered in this article about the treatment of clinical depression include:
- Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) and Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS)
- Self-Help Methods & Herbal Supplements
- Psychotherapy, Medication or Both?
There are a wide number of effective therapeutic approaches utilized for the treatment of depression today. These range from cognitive behavioral therapy, to behavioral therapy (e.g., Lewinsohn), to interpersonal therapy, to rational emotive therapy, to family and psychodynamic approaches. Both individual and group modalities are commonly used, depending upon the severity of the depressive episode and the resources available within an individual’s community.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most popular and commonly-used therapy for the effective treatment of depression. Hundreds of research studies have been conducted that verify both its safety and effectiveness in treating people who suffer from this disorder. Aaron T. Beck is the father of this therapeutic technique, and he has authored books and studies supporting cognitive-behavioral therapy. Consisting of a number of useful and simple techniques which focus on the internal dialogue which takes place within a person’s mind, cognitive-behavioral therapy is not concerned with causes of the depression so much as what a person can do, right now, to help change the way they are feeling.
Therapy begins by establishing a supportive therapeutic environment which is positive and reinforcing for the individual. Educating the client within the first session or two is usually the next step to learning how depression–for many people–is caused by faulty cognitions. The numerous types of faulty thinking that we as humans do are discussed (e.g., “all or nothing thinking,” “misattribution of blame,” “overgeneralization,” etc.) and the client is encouraged to begin noting his or her thoughts as they occur throughout the day. This is imperative to further success in treatment, for the individual must understand how common and often these thoughts are occurring during a single day.
In cognitive-behavioral therapy, emphasis is placed on discussing these thoughts and the behaviors associated with depression. While emotions are certainly a focus of some of the time throughout therapy, it is thought within this theoretical framework that thoughts and behaviors are more likely to change emotions than trying to attempt a post-mortem analysis of why a person is feeling the way they are. Because of this approach, cognitive-behavioral therapy is short-term (usually conducted under two dozen sessions) and works best for people experiencing a fair amount of distress relating to their depression. Individuals who can approach a problem from a unique perspective and those who are more cognitively-oriented are also likely to do better with this approach.