How is depression treated?
Our doctors will listen to your symptoms and suggest the best way to treat your depression. The two most common treatments are either referring you for talking therapy or prescribing medication.
The treatment you’re offered will depend on whether or not the doctor considers your depression to be mild or severe. In both cases, you’ll be given a clear treatment plan and the doctor will arrange a follow-up consultation to see how your treatment is working.
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Treating mild depression
It’s possible to have mild depression. This is where you’ll feel low most days, but have some short periods where you feel normal. Your symptoms will also not feel as overwhelming as more severe forms.
Mild depression is often treated with an approach known as ‘watchful waiting’. This involves making small changes and seeing if your depression gets any better on its own. Our doctors may suggest:
- Seeing your friends more often
- Getting more exercise
- Addressing your work problems with your employer
- Avoiding alcohol or drugs
- Getting more sleep
- Improving your diet
- Getting out in the sun more
Our doctors will want to check back in with you in a couple of weeks to see if this has helped. If you have had mild symptoms of depression for some time, they may suggest talking therapies. If these don't help, or aren't appropriate, they may consider medication.
Treating severe depression
If the ‘watchful waiting’ approach doesn’t work, or your doctor decides you’re already showing signs of moderate or severe depression, they’ll recommend one (or a combination) of the following treatments:
There are often steps you can take at home to help you deal with depression. Our doctors may suggest online resources or local self help groups, which you can use to meet people in a similar situation to you and share your experiences.
Talking about depression can be helpful. However, our doctors appreciate that you may not be comfortable sharing your feelings with your friends and family.
In this case, our doctors can refer you to a specialist mental health team for assessment. These experts won’t tell you what to do, or even give advice. They will help you work out a way to deal with these situations yourself and provide a platform for you to speak about your problems without being judged or criticised.
The two most common talking therapies are counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
If you’ve kept your feelings bottled up, counselling can be a great outlet for releasing all the tension you feel.
A counsellor can help you understand what has led to you feeling this way. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to work through them and find a way to deal with your feelings.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
CBT works on the principle that the way you think and the way you act are linked. By changing the way you think about and respond to factors that trigger your depression, you can change how you act in response and prevent yourself getting into a vicious cycle. CBT helps you break that cycle with a conscious decision-making process.
You’ll have a certain number of sessions with a mental health professional, during which you’ll work out what’s causing you to feel depressed.
The next step will involve training your mind to respond differently to whatever is triggering your depression. The weekly sessions allow you to chart your progress and develop a system for confronting situations that would normally lead to depression.
CBT is very much focussed on the present, so it’s unlikely to be recommended if your depression stems from issues in your past.
Referral to a psychiatrist
If your symptoms are very severe, or you’ve had repeated bouts of depression, our doctors can refer you to a psychiatrist for specialist treatment.
Medication for depression
Antidepressants work by increasing levels of hormones such as serotonin, which lifts your mood. The decision to use medication to treat depression isn’t taken lightly, as it must be carefully managed. It shouldn’t be seen as a ‘quick fix’.
Our doctors can prescribe antidepressants if they feel it’s appropriate.
How to take your medication
Your doctor will explain exactly how you’ll need to take your medication and make sure you’re aware of any possible side effects. It’s really important that you take your medication exactly as instructed by the doctor, including the dosage and frequency.
Most antidepressants are not addictive. However, to make sure you don’t become addicted, your doctor will prescribe the lowest dosage that treats your symptoms with minimal or no side effects. You must never simply stop taking your medication if you feel better.
What happens when it’s time to stop taking your medication?
If your doctor decides you no longer need antidepressants, they’ll help you wean yourself off them gradually to prevent any symptoms returning.
If this is your first episode of depression, the evidence suggests you should continue treatment for at least 6 months after your symptoms resolve.
If you have had depression before, it’s recommended that you continue treatment for two years after your symptoms resolve.
Some people may benefit from staying on medication long term. There is little evidence that taking antidepressants indefinitely is detrimental to your health.
What to do if your medication isn’t working
Not all antidepressants are the same. It can take up to four weeks for some to have any effect. In some cases, you may even feel worse before you get better.
This is why your doctor will want to keep a close eye on you in the early stages of your treatment. If you feel your medication isn’t working, or the side effects are too strong, you should book a follow-up appointment to discuss an alternative medicine.
While they’re effective at treating the symptoms of depression, antidepressants don’t always address the cause, so you may be referred for talking therapy to address this.
Long-term depression management
For people with chronic depression, more intensive treatment may be needed. Our doctors may suggest regular follow-up appointments in order to monitor your symptoms and help you stay on the road to recovery.
Some people who have been successfully treated for depression may suffer a relapse in future. Our doctors are able to help with this and get your condition management back on track.
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Our doctors will use their experience to find out as much as they can about the confusion and recommend the next steps. They can refer you to a specialist for further investigation if required and arrange blood and urine tests that you can perform yourself in the comfort of your own home or at a nearby clinic if you prefer.
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Updated: October 10, 2019