Depression is a diagnosable mental health condition that can quickly become severe if left untreated. It’s a serious and common disease all around the world; it’s estimated that over 264 million people globally suffer from depression. But there’s hope for people who’ve been diagnosed with depression: there are many effective treatment options for depression that can help you beat this illness and get you feeling like yourself again.
So how can depression be treated? In this guide, we’ll talk about everything you need to know about all of the treatment options for depression, including their benefits and their potential side effects and risks.
What are the different types of depression?
First, it’s important to understand that there are several different types of depressive disorders. Most often, when we talk about someone having “depression”, we’re referring to something called major depressive disorder. However, there are many other types of depressive disorders, and treatment options for depression may differ depending on what type you have.
The most common types of depressive disorders, as listed in the diagnostic and statistical manual, are:
- Major depressive disorder: This is the most well-known type of depressive disorder; to be diagnosed with major depression, you must have experienced symptoms of depression (like low mood and feelings of hopelessness) almost every day for over 2 weeks.
- Major depressive disorder with psychotic features: Sometimes, major depressive disorder comes with what are called “qualifiers”. For example, someone with depression may display psychotic symptoms like hallucinations or delusions.
- Bipolar depression (formerly manic depression): Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder defined by the presence of two types of moods: manic (or hypomanic) episodes, which are characterized by bursts of energy, restlessness, and feelings of euphoria, and depressive episodes. Depressive episodes of someone with bipolar disorder look very similar to major depressive episodes, but treatment differs greatly because of the presence of mania.
- Perinatal depressive disorder: It’s common for people to experience symptoms of depression before or after giving birth. This is diagnosed as perinatal depressive disorder. Perinatal depressive disorder is extremely common, with 1 in 9 people people who give birth experiencing it.
- Persistent depressive disorder (formerly dysthymic disorder): People with persistent depressive disorder experience chronic symptoms of major depression; they usually start experiencing symptoms at a younger age.
So, how can depression be treated? It depends on the type of depression you have. Only a licensed mental health provider (or medical doctor) can tell you which depressive disorder you are suffering from. However, it’s important to be aware that there are several different types of depression, and a treatment that works for one type may not work for another (or may even make it worse).
Medication for Depression
One of the most common (and most effective) treatments that is used for depression is psychiatric medication. There are many different types of medications that are used to treat depression; most of them fall under the general umbrella of “antidepressants”. Even within the broad category of antidepressant medications, there are several different kinds that have been shown to be effective in treating depression symptoms.
Which antidepressant you are prescribed depends a lot on your medical history, specific symptoms, and any side effects you experience. The most common categories of antidepressants include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). These are usually preferred over older classes of antidepressants because they tend to cause less side effects.
In more rare cases, when traditional antidepressant medication hasn’t been useful for the person with depression (or if the person suffers from something like bipolar disorder), other types of psychiatric medications may be prescribed. Mood stabilizers and anti-seizure medication are used to treat depression in the context of bipolar disorder to help reduce the risk of mania.
The main benefit of using medication to treat depression is that they’re effective, especially when they’re combined with an evidence-based psychotherapy treatment like cognitive behavioral therapy.
The downside to medication may be that they sometimes come with side effects. The side effects differ for each medication. Often, the side effects are mild and temporary and mild, like drowsiness or temporary nausea. But some rare side effects can be severe and even dangerous. However, your prescribing doctor will take all side effects into consideration to find a medication that works for you.
Psychotherapy for Depression
How can depression be treated with psychotherapy? A licensed therapist or counselor can help you understand which psychotherapy type is best for your depression.
Along with medications, psychotherapy is recommended as the 1st line treatment for major depressive disorder (other depressive disorders). There are many types of evidence-based psychotherapy methods available, but the one that’s most often recommended is called cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT is based on the premise that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all interconnected. CBT therapists help the clients change their irrational and unhelpful thinking patterns so that they’re able to challenge the thoughts that cause depression symptoms.
Studies show that interpersonal psychotherapy is also beneficial for some people with depression. This is a brief, solution-focused psychotherapy that focuses on repairing relationship problems that have led to your depressive symptoms.
Research shows that receiving evidence-based psychotherapy is effective in the treatment of depression, and some studies show that it can be as effective as (or even more effective than) medication. Additionally, psychotherapy doesn’t carry the same risk for side effects as medications.
Brain Stimulation Therapies for Depression
Brain stimulation therapies use magnets or electrodes to deliver electric currents directly to the brain. These currents stimulate different areas of the brain that are thought to be affected by depression. How can depression be treated with brain stimulation therapy? There are several options, but you should talk with a therapist to see which options are accessible to you and fit your needs.
The most studied type of brain stimulation therapy is called electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT. ECT directly delivers electric shocks to the brain to stimulate the areas of your brain that are affected by depression. ECT isn’t usually recommended as a first line treatment for depression because of the side effects and risks. ECT causes small seizures every time an electric current is sent to the brain; in rare cases these seizures become prolonged, even after treatment has ended. Other common side effects include fatigue, severe headache, and memory loss.
A newer, and safer, type of brain stimulation therapy is called transmagnetic stimulation therapy, or TMS therapy. TMS uses electromagnetic coils, much like the technology that’s used in MRI scans, to deliver micropulses to the brain. Unlike ECT, TMS therapy does not cause seizures, and the risk of developing a seizure after treatment is less than 1%. Because TMS therapy is safe and well tolerated by most people, it is often recommended as a treatment for depression, especially for people who’ve already tried psychotherapy and antidepressant medication and haven’t found any relief.
No matter what treatment you’re considering for your depression symptoms, Genesis Behavioral Health has your back. Our team of therapists, psychiatrists, and TMS specialists are here to learn about your needs and find the treatment that works for you. Reach out to our office today to learn how we can support you along your journey.