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Depression treatment

What is depression?

Depression is a mental health condition which can affect a person's ability to function.

Depression is not just sadness. It’s a disorder that needs to be treated seriously. Being told to ‘cheer up’ or ‘get over it’, won’t help someone suffering from depression, but there are many treatments that can.

Just as there are different types of depression, there are also different types of treatment. Physical, psychological, complementary and self-help solutions can all be effective, usually in combination.

Physical treatments

  • Medication - Three types of medication are used in the treatment of depression: tranquilisers, mood stabilisers and antidepressants.

Finding the right medication can be a process of trial and error. Don’t give up; it’s normal to try different options before finding what’s right for you. However be aware of side effects.

Talk to your doctor or nurse regularly about how you are feeling. In some cases, medication needs to be continued after you feel better to reduce the chance of relapse. Medication is not recommended as the first line of treatment for children or teenagers.

  • Brain stimulation therapies - If antidepressants or other treatments are not effective, chronic, severe or psychotic depression may be alleviated by activating the brain directly with electricity or magnets. These are thought to be effective due to a change in brain chemistry. The best known of these therapies is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

Psychological treatments

Psychological treatments are an effective way of changing negative thought processes. They are often used in conjunction with medication. Treatments include:

  • Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) - CBT works on negative thinking patterns and the way people with depression tend to interpret events and view life.
  • Counselling - Talking through the way you feel with a mental health professional can be an effective way of finding solutions and getting support.
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT) - This one-on-one therapy focuses on the role of personality and social functioning in making people vulnerable to depression.
  • Psychotherapy - The therapist and patient explore how life events have caused depression. Treatment can continue for a number of years.

Complementary therapies

In combination with other treatment, complementary therapies can be valuable tools for coping with depression and improving mental wellbeing. Therapies include:

  • Meditation - Focusing on clearing and calming the mind has been found to be beneficial for reducing depression.
  • Relaxation techniques - Progressive muscle relaxation and autogenic training, where you relax using a self-hypnosis technique, are two recommended relaxation techniques. Particularly positive results have been noted in people who combine relaxation techniques with cognitive behaviour therapy.
  • Yoga - Calming the mind through physical poses and breathing has been found to bring peace and calm to those suffering depression.
  • Light therapy - Exposure to therapeutic amounts of light is used to help a number of disorders from insomnia to depression, particularly for people who have seasonal affective disorder.
  • Bibliotherapy - Written word therapy, using books and computer programs to learn about depression and completing exercises, can be used for mild to moderate depression.
  • Herbal remedies and supplements - Omega 3 fatty acids, St John’s Wort, folate and SAMe (a synthetic form of a naturally occurring body chemical) can be beneficial for some people.
  • Acupuncture - A small number of studies have supported the value of this traditional Chinese practice in alleviating depression symptoms.
  • Massage therapy - Massage can relieve muscle tension and aid relaxation.

There are also things you can do in your life to help you recover from depression: eat a healthy diet, healthy sleep habits, avoid drugs and alcohol, exercise regularly and stick to your treatment plan.

There’s no one treatment for depression, but in consultation with a health care provider you can find the right treatment approach for you and start moving towards a future that is free from depression.

Not sure what to do next?

If you or someone you know are finding it difficult to manage mental health issues, try healthdirect’s symptom checker and get advice on when to seek professional help.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: June 2015

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