To diagnose depression, your doctor will ask you questions about the symptoms you are experiencing and their severity. Your doctor may perform a physical exam and order blood tests to make sure there isn't an underlying medical cause for your symptoms.
Physicians are trained to help you, and to take depression and its treatment seriously. Together with your doctor, you can begin to identify and manage the nature of the problem, and then develop a treatment plan. This may include a referral to a psychiatrist or psychotherapist.
Treating and Preventing Depression
Most types of depression respond to antidepressant medications, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. Providing education about depression and its treatment to people with depression and to their family members may also be part of a treatment plan.
Medications: Sometimes people with depression are unaware that medications can help them, or they are at first hesitant to take antidepressant medications to manage their condition. However, there are many different medications available today to help treat depression. You and your doctor can work together to decide what medication is best for you.
Some of the more commonly used medications for depression include SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as fluoxetine*, paroxetine, citalopram, and escitalopram), SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors such as duloxetine, venlafaxine, and desvenlafaxine), bupropion, trazodone, mirtazapine, MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors such as moclobemide and phenelzine), and tricyclic antidepressants (e.g., amitriptyline, doxepin, nortriptyline).
Medications used to treat depression begin to work after 2 to 4 weeks of treatment, although improvements in some symptoms may be seen within the first few weeks. In some situations, more than one medication will need to be tried until the most appropriate one is found for an individual. All medications, including antidepressants, can have side effects. Your doctor and pharmacist should explain common side effects to you and help you to manage them should they occur. Most antidepressants should be taken for at least 6 to 24 months after the episode of depression has resolved.
Herbals: Studies have shown that St. John's wort is not effective for people with clinical (major) depression. Although people with mild symptoms may receive some benefit from it, you should talk to your doctor and pharmacist before taking any herbals or over-the-counter medications. Keep in mind that some herbal medications may interact with prescription or over-the-counter medications.
Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy can be an important part of managing depression. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and some family doctors are trained to help people recognize and overcome the kind of thinking that causes depression. Support groups, friends, and family can also help.
In more severe cases, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is used, but it is generally reserved for those who do not respond to medications.
Light therapy (or "phototherapy," which involves controlled exposure to artificial sunlight) can help some people overcome symptoms associated with seasonal affective disorder.
Physical activity and sports can improve depression by helping to relieve anxiety, increase appetite, aid sleep, and improve mood and self-esteem. Exercise also increases the body's production of endorphins, a natural mood-elevating hormone.
An active lifestyle, supportive family and friends, and a positive outlook can go a long way in coping with depression.
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For information on a given medication, check our Drug Information database. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.