All about treatments for depression

Self-help strategies may sometimes not be enough to help get things back on track. Other methods of depression treatment include psychological treatments and medication. Learn more about the different depression treatment options and how to find support.

This can help if:

  • you want more information about how to treat depression

  • you’ve tried self-help strategies and things haven’t been improving

  • you’re worried about a friend and want to know about treatment options.

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Why treat depression?

Depression can seriously interfere with someone’s life. People can’t just ‘snap out of it’; it may take some time to recover from depression, with many ups and downs along the way. Figuring out the best treatment for the particular person can be difficult, so it’s important to seek advice from a GP. Together, self-help strategies and professional support will help to manage depression and make things much easier.

What treatments are available for depression?

Some people may be more likely to experience depression because of biological factors (such as their genes or hormones) or life history (such as stressful life experiences). Depression also exists in many different forms, ranging on a spectrum from mild to severe.

This means that a treatment plan for depression is going to look different for every person. For example, mild depression might involve a lot of self-help (things like physical exercise), while severe depression might require more focused psychological treatment and medication.

It can sometimes take a bit of time, but if you are experiencing depression and seek the help of your doctor, you’ll be able to work out a treatment plan that works for you.

Psychological treatments for depression

Psychological treatments can work alongside medication or on their own. They’re usually provided by an expert such as a psychologist, psychiatrist or other mental health professional, and they involve shifting patterns of thoughts and feelings, or working to improve relationships.

Types of psychological treatment that might be used include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): This type of therapy has the most research evidence behind it. It usually involves a clinical psychologist working with you to change negative thought patterns and behaviours that contribute to low mood. Online CBT programs (such as MoodGYM) are also available and have been shown to be effective as well.

  • Interpersonal therapy: This is a structured program for improving relationships, which is important because the presence of healthy, supportive relationships has been proven to help in reducing depression symptoms and in preventing relapse, while relationship difficulties can worsen symptoms.

  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT): This therapy is based on the idea that difficult thoughts and feelings are normal, and are connected to the things that are important to us. ACT encourages you to think about what is and isn’t within your control, to acknowledge how you feel, and to be aware and mindful in your day-to-day activities.

  • Narrative therapy: Narrative therapists understand depression in terms of stories that we have about our lives. People with depression often miss events that tell a different story about them. Narrative therapists try to help people to ‘write’ new stories about their lives.

  • Family therapy: There is strong evidence for family-based therapies for a variety of mental health problems. These therapies work by reconnecting and repairing relationships with those who love and care for us and can include parents, carers, friends, or other support people.

The most important thing is that you trust and get on well with the mental health professional you choose. Your psychologist or psychiatrist will be able to help work out the best approach for you, based on identifying the main factors contributing to your depression and the best ways to target them.

More about medication for depression

Anti-depressant medication is most effective when taken in addition to psychological therapy. Medications usually take a few weeks or months before any improvement is seen. There are several different types of anti-depressant medications prescribed by GPs or psychiatrists. The common types of anti-depressants are:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

  • Selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

There are many different types of SSRIs and SNRIs, which work in different ways. Put simply: they target chemicals in the brain. Like most medications, there can be side-effects, and some medications are better suited to adults than young people. It’s important to ask about what options you have, how the medication will affect you and how to take it safely. You should never change the amount of medication you take without speaking to your GP or psychiatrist first.

Inpatient support

Sometimes, if your depression is severe and seriously affecting your safety, you might need more intensive support, such as a short stay in hospital. Here, mental health professionals can monitor your treatments and look after you until you’re better able to manage your symptoms.

What can I do now?

  • Make an appointment with your GP.

  • Get some strategies you can do on your own, to help manage symptoms of depression.