What are some of the treatments available for patients who are diagnosed with depression?
Major depressive disorder is one of the most common ailments in the modern age. So common, in fact, that the prevalence of clinical depression can be comparable to some of the most common physical ailments. Being a very serious mental health condition, many people affected by this disorder ask “can depression be cured?”. Compared to other physical illnesses, such as cancer, it is rather difficult to measure whether depression is cured. That said, there are many therapies available for patients with depression, and a combination of several therapies is often effective in treating the disease.
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of depression, seek help from a primary care doctor. The doctor can explain the different treatment options and a treatment plan can be created.
Treatment with Medications
The most common course of treatment for people with depression is antidepressant medications. Antidepressants can be a very helpful treatment for depression, but it is very rare for a person to be able to overcome depression with only one medication. Because of this, treatments usually involve a combination of two or more medications, and can often be combined with psychotherapy.
Many different types of antidepressant medications exist today, and many of them appear to be similarly effective. Some of the most common medications are known as Selective Serotonin or Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI/SNRI). These medications work by blocking the proteins that are responsible for the uptake of neurotransmitters, thereby increasing their concentration in the brain.
Such antidepressant medications can often be an effective part of both short-term and long-term treatments for people with depression. One problem with depression is the high rates of relapse. It is not uncommon for people to continue taking an antidepressant for long periods of time.
Psychotherapy is another very common and effective way to treat depression. People who live with depression often seek the help of psychotherapists, and can benefit immensely from talk therapy.
There are a wide range of psychotherapy treatments that professionals can employ when working to alleviate symptoms of depression.
One such therapy is known as the interpersonal psychodynamic approach. This approach is based on the belief that nearly all problems that end up creating depressive symptoms can, in essence, be traced to dysfunctional interpersonal relationships. This therapy is originally time-limited, consisting of 12 to 16 sessions. The therapist will work with the patient to identify the problem areas, such as grief or interpersonal deficits. The patient is encouraged to express their feelings and emotions, and contradictions in emotions and behaviors are noted and discussed.
Another very common type of therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy. This therapy aims to help patients behave and think more rationally, by helping them see their cognitive distortions and how these relate to their depressive symptoms. Therapists can also use behavioral management techniques in the treatment of depression. For instance, it has been long known that increasing activity, little by little, in people with depression can alleviate a significant portion of the anhedonia associated with depression.
A subset of cognitive behavioral therapies, known as acceptance and mindfulness-based interventions, is a third-generation psychotherapy treatment developed more recently. These types of therapy borrow on many of the aspects introduced by eastern philosophies, and include elements of mindfulness and acceptance as seen in Buddhist practice. In essence, such therapies often focus on the present moment, urging the person to pay attention to what is happening without judgement or expectations. Importantly, acceptance and mindfulness therapies do not promote running away from or ignoring problems, nor do they encourage trying to control unpleasant feelings and thoughts. Rather, it is seen as a way to actively perceive everything that happens, whether pleasant or unpleasant, exactly as it is.
While different types of therapies may be preferable for different people, there has been no evidence that any one therapy is more effective than another. In other words, it is not so important which therapy one undergoes, what is more important is whether the person finds the connection with the therapist as being useful, meaningful, or helpful.
Brain Stimulation and Electroconvulsive Therapy
Another notable treatment for people experiencing symptoms of depression is brain stimulation. These types of treatment can sound very intimidating to patients. However, such treatments have been improved over many decades.
Different types of brain stimulation therapies exist today. Some are more invasive, and include the insertion of electrodes into a person’s brain through surgery. Other methods, such as Electroconvulsive Therapy, are significantly less invasive, requiring no surgery but are often conducted under anesthesia. Such treatments work by using electricity to stimulate areas of the brain, which can result in noticeable change in patients’ symptoms. The exact mechanism of treatment is not yet understood, but the effectiveness of such treatment has often been recorded.
While treatments such as Electroconvulsive Therapy have been found effective, they are reserved for patients experiencing acute depression. Such depression will often be resistant to other forms of treatment, and the patient may be at high risk of suicide. In such treatment-resistant patient, Electroconvulsive Therapy is the most effective treatment available. It can also be an effective treatment for patients suffering from severe bipolar disorder.
Exercise as Treatment for Depression
While many forms of direct treatment exist, there are also many alternative treatments that have been found effective for people with depressive disorders. One such alternative treatment is exercise, which has been found effective in treating symptoms of depression.
A review of scientific studies reported that exercise is as effective as other forms of treatment for reducing symptoms of depression. While much more research is needed to determine whether such effects are consistent across different types of exercise, exercise is an example of how other factors can contribute to increased wellbeing in people suffering from depression.
Taking all of these types of treatments into consideration, people who ask ‘can depression be cured’ may find that there is hope in terms of treatment outcomes. With many available treatments, a person who experiences symptoms of depression can find help and support in many forms.
There are many support groups for people who experience depression or whose loved ones are living with depression. It is often possible for people with depression to benefit from a combination of different treatments and supports. For instance, a possible pathway for someone may be a combination of medications and talk therapy, as well as exercise and other forms of social supports.
Still, if you or someone you know may be experiencing symptoms of depression or any mental health concern it is important to reach out to health professionals in your community. Often, a family or primary care doctor can be an accessible person who may direct you towards someone who can help. It is important to seek treatment for depression as soon as possible and not ignore the symptoms.
Written By Maor Bernshtein
Cooney, G., Dwan, K., Greig, C., Lawlor, D., Rimer, J., Waugh, F., McMurdo, M., Mead, G., & Mead, G. (2013). Exercise for depression. Cochrane Library, 2013(9). https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD004366.pub6
DeRubeis, R., & Strunk, D. (2015). The Oxford handbook of mood disorders. Oxford University Press.
Zuckerman, M. (2010). Depression: Treatment. In Personality Science (p. 175–198). American Psychological Association.
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