Depression comes in as many shapes and sizes as the people it affects. If you have the symptoms of depression (see box below if you are uncertain), there are ways to take control of your own mental health. Psychologist Michael McKee, PhD, and psychiatrist Donald Malone, MD, offer the following advice to get you started.
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Try lifestyle changes
For mild cases of depression especially, small changes can make a big difference. Try the following starter steps:
- Get more exercise. There is a known, proven link between physical activity and mental health.
- Get out of bed or off the couch. This is easier said than done, but being sedentary makes the symptoms of depression much worse.
- Do not isolate yourself. People dealing with depression have a tendency to withdraw into their own worlds, but isolation also tends to make matters worse.
Ask about medication
With around 30 different choices on the market, antidepressants are the most prescribed drugs in the country. One in 10 Americans takes an antidepressant.
No single drug works for everyone. In some cases, patients try several medications before finding the one, or the combination, that works for them. “We choose an initial medication based on a constellation of different things,” Dr. Malone says, “including what’s covered by insurance, the side effects, other conditions a person has, family experience and personal history. A lot goes into the decision-making process, and we can adjust when things don’t work.”
Talk it through
Don’t discount the value of talk therapy. When depression impairs your ability to function, medication alone may not be enough. “When you get to that level of depression,” Dr. Malone says, “many studies have shown that a combination of medications and therapy is really better than either one alone.”
Therapy can help you change your thinking and behavior in the long term, says Dr. McKee. Simply putting your anxieties and sources of stress into words can be very therapeutic.
“Overall, there’s this sort of hopelessness: Life isn’t any fun anymore, and it’s not going to get any better,” Dr. McKee says. “And a helplessness: There’s nothing I can do about it. Healthcare professionals can help patients challenge both of those assumptions and fight those feelings.”
Know the Signs of Depression
Seek treatment if you experience these symptoms:
- Suicidal thoughts or fixation on death
- Consistent sleep disturbances
- Pervasive feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
- Lack of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Cognitive impairment and inability to focus
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Loss of appetite
Sources: National Institute of Mental Health; Donald Malone, MD; Michael McKee, PhD