October 3, 2022

What Is Depression and How Is It Treated?

Everyone feels sad from time to time—it’s a normal part of navigating the challenges and disappointments of everyday life. 

But depression is more than a low mood.

Depression affects a person’s thinking, relationships, ability to carry out family and work responsibilities, and health. 

To make matters worse, ignoring depression may make these problems work together to worsen mood and deplete energy further. 

Fortunately, with the proper treatment, support, and self-care, depression is very treatable. 

Symptoms of depression

If you or someone you know has any of the following symptoms continuously for more than two weeks, depression may be indicated. Although no single symptom is diagnostic of depression, all of these symptoms should be taken seriously, and professional advice should be sought (e.g., family doctor, counsellor).

•            Feeling sad, discouraged, worthless, empty, hopeless

•            Not enjoying activities that used to be fun

•            Feeling guilty or on-edge

•            Finding it hard to make decisions

•            No desire for sex or intimacy

•            Not wanting to eat or having trouble stopping eating

•            Being overly and unfairly self-critical (e.g., “I am no good anymore”)

•            Thinking about self-harm, suicide

•            Unable to sleep well, restless at night

•            Consuming more alcohol than normal

•            Avoiding family, friends, co-workers

•            Avoiding work, being unproductive

What causes depression?

There is no single answer to this question. 

Sometimes depression is caused by changes in the body’s chemistry that influence mood and thought processes. 

In other cases, depression is a sign that certain mental and emotional aspects of a person’s life are out of balance. 

In other situations, depression may result from a specific incident such as the sudden passing of a loved one, a failed business venture, a divorce or a loss of employment. 

Regardless of what causes depression, the most important thing is recognizing that it is happening and reaching out for help and support.

Treating depression with medication

Medications can be helpful in reducing symptoms of depression, particularly in cases of moderate to severe depression. However, given the potential side effects, medication use requires close monitoring by the physician or psychiatrist who prescribes the drugs. More importantly, medication only provides temporary relief from depression and more should be done to address the root causes and contributors to depression.

Questions to ask about medication

It is important to be educated about medications taken for any illness, and depression is no different. Here are some general questions that may be asked of a doctor or pharmacist:

  • How long will it take before I feel better?
  • How often, and how much, do I take?
  • What are the possible side effects, if any, and what can I do to best manage them?
  • What is the best-tolerated treatment for my particular situation?
  • Will this medication interfere with other medication(s) or herbal remedies that I take?
  • Do I have allergies to this medication?
  • What should I do if I don’t feel better or if I miss a dose?

Treating depression with counseling

Antidepressant medications can help improve mood. However, the personal, family or workplace situations that may have contributed to low mood and other depression symptoms may still be there.

Counselling can help:

  • Pinpoint life problems that contribute to depression
  • Review options and goals to enhance well-being
  • Identify thinking patterns that contribute to feelings of hopelessness
  • Fill life with rewarding and pleasurable activities

As with medication, there are different kinds of counselling. Two common methods are described below:

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The “gold standard” of treating depression, sometimes combined with medication. This therapy helps to identify and change unrealistic and negative thinking that can contribute to depression and its symptoms. In addition, cognitive therapy helps with the development of healthy behaviours and problem-solving skills.

Interpersonal Therapy. This therapy helps develop new skills for creating healthy and satisfying relationships with partners, friends, co-workers and family. This therapy can assist with understanding the connection between depression and life events (e.g. grief, conflict at work).

Which treatment option is best for me?

Medication and counselling are both successful at treating the symptoms of depression. Sometimes these therapies are used alone and sometimes in combination. The choice of which particular therapy is best for depression is always done in consultation with a health care provider who will consider the following:

  • Is there a medical reason to avoid certain medications (e.g. pregnancy, breast feeding)?
  • Is there a history of depression and treating it before? If so, what worked?
  • Age and general health
  • Severity of the depression
  • Personal preferences and likelihood of completing the therapy (e.g. taking medication as prescribed, attending counselling sessions)
  • Other life stressors that may be worsening depression symptoms

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