Depression is a common mental illness that causes significant impairment. It is characterized by low moods that can last for weeks, causing feelings of hopelessness, thoughts of suicide, extreme fatigue, and loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. While there is no cure for depression, evidence-based treatments that include medications and therapy can make a big difference. For some patients, residential care is useful in helping to manage symptoms and future depressed moods.
Major depression is a serious mental illness and mood disorder. It causes a range of symptoms that can vary by individual. These include a depressed mood, sadness, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, loss of interest in typical activities, changes in weight and sleeping habits, fatigue, and even suicidal thoughts. Episodes of depression last for two weeks or longer and can occur on and off throughout a person’s life.
This condition can have a big impact on normal functioning, making ordinary life and healthy relationships very challenging. The best thing someone with depression can do to manage symptoms and restore function is to get diagnosed and then to get involved with a comprehensive and individualized treatment plan. There is no cure for depression, but there are effective treatments.
Managing Symptoms with Antidepressants
The exact treatment plan used for depression should vary by individual, but generally there are two main approaches and every plan should include both: medications and therapy. Antidepressant medications alone are not enough to manage this disease, but they do have a big impact and can be highly effective in reducing symptoms and episodes. There are several types of antidepressants to try, and it may take a few attempts before a patient finds the one that works best and causes the fewest side effects:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs are among the newest drugs for depression, and they are the first ones patients are usually given to try. They cause fewer side effects than older drugs. Examples include Lexapro, Prozac, and Zoloft.
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). The SNRI drugs work in a similar way to SSRIs and are also newer drugs with fewer side effects. Examples are Effexor and Cymbalta.
- Atypical antidepressants. These drugs are not similar to those in any other categories, and they may be tried if SSRIs and SNRIs fail to produce good results. They include Wellbutrin and Trintellix.
- Other antidepressants. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) and tricyclic antidepressants are older drugs that tend to cause more severe side effects, so they are used more as a last resort, when other types don’t work or have stopped working.
It’s important to remember that antidepressants take several weeks to work, so patience is required. Side effects can be mild to severe and may require switching to a new drug. It is also crucial to avoid stopping use suddenly, as these drugs can cause harmful withdrawal symptoms. Never stop using them without the guidance of the prescribing doctor.
Therapy for Depression
The best outcomes for managing depression occur when patients use medications and get regular therapy. Behavioral therapies are most often used. This kind of therapy helps individuals to take active, concrete steps to recognize and change the negative patterns of thoughts and behaviors caused by depression.
Therapy can be one-on-one, conducted in a group setting, and done with family. All are useful and may be used to varying degrees. With therapy, depression patients can learn to identify triggers of low moods, take steps to avoid or minimize depression episodes, develop better relationships, and make positive lifestyle changes that lead to a better overall quality of life and greater functioning.
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For someone with severe depression, or with symptoms of psychosis, a period of time in residential care can be helpful. Residential treatment includes the same type of support that outpatient treatment plans use, but the setting is more intensive and safe. Patients stay in a staffed facility for a couple of weeks to months, getting time to really focus on care while staying safe. Treatment should continue after residential care, but this can be a good basis for ongoing wellness and therapy.
Lifestyle Changes and Home Care
Good treatment plans for depression will teach patients how to make changes in their lives that support wellness and more positive moods. Important changes include developing a strong social support system and relying on others for help, eating well and getting enough sleep and exercise, maintaining hobbies and other positive activities, and avoiding drugs and alcohol.
Depression has no cure, but it can be managed. Good treatment plans developed by experienced mental health professionals can lead to more stable moods, fewer episodes, more manageable symptoms, and greater overall function.