Psychotherapy, medication, and brain stimulation therapy can help treat various forms of depression.
Depression is a serious mental illness that can cause real pain to both you and your loved ones, and can even lead to suicide.
In fact, depression is associated with up to two-thirds of all suicide cases, according to the health information resource A.D.A.M.
Despite this alarming statistic, various medications as well as medication-free treatments are available to help you overcome depression before such severe complications develop.
Psychotherapy for Depression
Depression is different for everyone, but it typically develops due to a combination of factors.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is designed to help people identify and effectively deal with the psychological, behavioral, interpersonal, and situational factors related to their depression.
Different types of psychotherapy have different goals, such as helping people:
- Identify life problems that contribute to depression or worsen it
- Identify negative or distorted thoughts and beliefs that contribute to depression-related feelings, such as hopelessness and helplessness
- Develop skills to better cope with stress and solve problems
- Explore relationships and experiences to improve their interactions with other people
- Create realistic life goals and personal self-care plans
- Regain satisfaction and control in life
- Understand painful past events
Two of the most common types of psychotherapy are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy.
Effective for a wide range of mental illnesses, CBT attempts to help people uncover unhealthy or negative patterns of thoughts and beliefs, and replace those patterns with positive ones.
People undergoing CBT often have “homework” between sessions in which they record their negative thoughts, among other things.
Interpersonal therapy focuses on exploring a person’s relationships, identifying problems in those relationships, and improving interpersonal skills.
It aims to help people discover their negative social patterns, such as isolation and aggression, and develop strategies to better interact with other people.
Psychotherapy alone may be the best option for people with mild to moderate depression, but it may not be enough for people with severe depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Antidepressants, first developed in the 1950s, are a class of drugs that moderate certain chemicals in the brain that affect mood and behavior.
About 10 percent of Americans ages 12 and above report taking antidepressants, according to a 2011 report by the National Center for Health Statistics.
There are a range of depression medications available today, including:
- Tricyclic antidepressants
Depression and Electroconvulsive Therapy
If psychotherapy and medications don’t work for you, your psychiatrist may recommend that you undergo a brain stimulation therapy.
Once called electroshock therapy, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has come a very long way since it was first used in the 1940s.
In ECT, an electrical current is passed through the brain while you’re under anesthesia.
The treatment causes a brief, controlled seizure that affects neurons and brain chemistry. Most people undergo four to six treatments before they see major improvements, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
ECT may cause temporary side effects, including headaches, muscle pain, nausea, confusion, and memory loss.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation for Depression
Instead of using an electrical current, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) uses magnetic fields to stimulate neurons and help relieve depressive symptoms.
The treatment, which doesn’t require anesthesia, targets the brain area thought to be involved with regulating moods.
Side effects of TMS may include facial muscle contractions, headaches or light-headedness, and seizures (if you have a history of them).
Vagus Nerve Stimulation for Depression
For chronic depression or depression that doesn’t respond to ECT or TMS, vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) may be an option.
A kind of pacemaker for the brain, this treatment uses an implanted device to stimulate the vagus nerve — which carries messages to the parts of the brain controlling mood and sleep — with electrical signals throughout the day.
Localized side effects are associated with VNS, such as throat issues (swallowing, pain, and coughing), neck pain, and breathing problems while exercising.
Natural Remedies for Depression
There are a number of natural remedies, as well as complementary or alternative treatments, that may help treat depression when used in combination with other treatments (including medication).
These remedies include:
- Exercise, which releases mood-enhancing hormones
- Yoga, meditation, and other mind-body techniques that can lower stress and relieve negative emotions
- Massage therapy, which can reduce stress hormones and increase mood-stabilizing brain chemicals (neurotransmitters)
- Acupuncture, which may also positively affect neurotransmitters
Certain supplements — including folate, SAMe (S-Adenosyl-L-Methionine), and St. John’s wort — may also help treat depression, but more research is needed to prove their efficacy.
- Psychotherapy; National Alliance on Mental Illness.
- Depression: Treatment; National Alliance on Mental Illness
- Depression: Possible Complications; New York Times/A.D.A.M.
- Psychotherapies; National Institute of Mental Health.
- Mental Health Conditions: Depression and Anxiety; CDC.
- Depression; National Institute of Mental Health.