This article is called, “How to cure depression,” but I am going to tell you right away that the fact is that there is not one single, magical cure for all depression. Anyone who tells you differently is either a liar or trying to sell you something. Or both. There are many effective treatments for depression and it takes some work to find what is most beneficial for a given person.
Major depressive disorder is complex and, as a therapist or as someone who suffers from the illness, it is important to realize that effective treatments for depression often take time to work. They are different for different people. And it may take a combination of a few different treatments before you feel significantly better.
It is a worthwhile exercise to open up a notepad on your computer (or use a pen and paper) and write down your definition of being “better” from depression.
Also, it is important to manage your expectations about what “better” is. In fact it is a worthwhile exercise to open up a notepad on your computer (or use a pen and paper) and write down your definition of being “better” from depression. This will pinpoint which symptoms bother you the most, which will help guide your therapy. It will also help you to track your progress later on as you are able to refer back to this page you have made and consider your progress.
How to Cure Depression: Combination therapy
I have said it already, but it bears repeating. There likely will not be one single cure for your depression. Instead, it will consist of multiple therapies. A popular model these days is to consider that there is a biological, psychological, and social component to most mental illnesses. You need effective treatments for depression on all three of these levels in order to truly get well.
It takes effort and commitment to get well from depression. This is very difficult for someone who is depressed because of how depression works. Depression tells us that everything is hopeless, that there is no point in making an effort, that things will always be hopeless no matter what. With a message like that, why would ANYONE make an effort to change?
Things may feel extremely hopeless, but they are not.
However, what is important to realize is that this extreme feeling of hopelessness is the depression talking. In fact it is a lie. Yes, I said it and I will repeat it. It is a lie. Things are actually NOT hopeless and I will tell you why:
No matter what you do or do not do, your depression will eventually lift. Taking some action to try some treatment may make it lift faster and it may make you feel better. Also, it might prevent a relapse in the future. However, the thing about depression is that, even for people who are chronically depressed, depression does go away for months and even years at a time. And that is why the situation is actually NOT hopeless at all. And that is why your depressed mind is lying to you when it says things are hopeless.
The hopelessness is a feeling. The reality is that there is plenty of hope. Your life can get so much better if you take action. And if all you can manage for now is to just hold on, just hold on. Make just holding on your full-time job if you need to. Because it is worth it for the day that will come when the clouds finally part and your depression finally lifts.
What are the most effective treatments for depression?
This is a difficult question to answer because there are many therapies and they have not all been studied side by side in one single study (I don’t even know how the logistics of a study like that would work!) However, this article will cover the different effective treatments for depression in fairly general terms and you can expect articles in the coming weeks and months that explore these subjects in more depth.
For example, one therapy for depression is improved nutrition. However, what is “good nutrition” where depression is concerned? That will be the topic of another article.
The effective treatments for depression I discuss here focus on how to cure depression. When you are in the midst of a depressive episode, especially if you are feeling suicidal, well, first of all, get help immediately! However, the main focus when you are in the middle of a depressive episode is just de-escalating your feelings. And that might mean using a technique that might not be effective in the long run such as distraction — having a bath, doing something creative, watching a movie, reading a book, or calling a close friend. Those are all good distractions, but they are not effective in the long run (except doing something creative — having a regular creativity habit can be very therapeutic).
Effective Treatments for Depression
So, without further ado, the main treatments for depression are:
- Good nutrition. Research has shown this can have a profound effect on mood. I will give you a sneak preview of my article on nutrition to tell you that a Mediterranean diet is starting to be recommended for those who suffer from depression. There are many other emerging research findings that I will be discussing in another article. Vitamin B12, magnesium, Omega-3 fatty acids, and certain amino acids have shown promise as effective treatments for depression. I discuss this more in a separate article about the best supplements for depression.
- Exercise. I read a paper a while ago that showed that ten weeks of regular exercise and good nutrition was AS effective as CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) in relieving depression. CBT is known to be very effective, so this shows that exercise is very effective. Therefore, if you enjoy any form of exercise, get moving! The best type of exercise to do is one that you enjoy because that is what you are more likely to repeat. So, if you love swimming, but hate running, well, go for a swim. If you can plan to go with a friend or join an exercise class, this will also help you to be a little more social without too much pressure.
- Counselling. I already mentioned cognitive behavioral therapy. My current favorite type of therapy is mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT). MBCT basically brings together proven ideas from cognitive therapy with concepts about mindfulness borrowed from Eastern theology. There is a handout on “What is Mindfulness” available here.If you are a do-it-yourselfer, the best self-help book I know of for this is The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness. The link is to the abridged audio version. I recommend either that version or the Audible version because I believe that it is sometimes hard to motivate yourself to read when you are depressed, but listening to some audio self-help just involves being physically present and having it on. Regardless of what version you purchase, it comes with guided meditation practice and a progressive muscle relaxation practice exercise, both of which are in audio format (the paperback comes with a CD). Also, you can find other tools and worksheets regarding mindfulness by clicking here (and then scroll down).There are many other types of counselling and often counsellors or psychologists will use a variety of different techniques to help a given client to emerge from a depression.
- Medication. Medication can work miracles, but it doesn’t work for everyone. There are positives and negatives to taking meds and I will write a complete article on that one day soon. However, for now, I will say that if you have suffered from depression for a while and have not tried medication or have only tried one or two medications, it is worth being a guinea pig to your doctor or psychiatrist and letting them play with the dosage, type of medication, etc. Every person is different and unfortunately, the science is not very exact so they have to sort of figure it out for each person individually. Think of it like if you were having a suit (or a dress) made especially for you. You would not expect it to fit without some measuring and trying it on and such. It is a tremendous frustration to try different medications and have them not work. However, when a medication does work, it can be one of the most effective treatments for depression!
- Alternative therapies – This can include anything from acupuncture to yoga. Not all alternative therapies are effective treatments for depression. Be careful and remember the old adage that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Acupuncture and yoga have some evidence to suggest their effectiveness. What I like to consider when evaluating an alternative therapy are three things:
- Is there real evidence to show it will improve depression? This means real evidence from someone other than the person trying to sell you the “cure”.
- How costly is it?
- What potential damage can it cause?
These three factors, taken together, can help you make a good decision. For example, if an alternative therapy has very little scientific evidence, but it is cheap and unlikely to cause damage, why not try it? One example of this that I can think of is color therapy — a little food coloring in your bath is supposed to cheer you up. I do not promise that your skin will not turn a little green if you try this. 🙂
On the other hand, St. John’s Wort, for example, is a therapy you might want to be more cautious about. Why? Because, although it is “natural,” it really has chemical effects in your body. It may interact with any antidepressants you are taking. And, most importantly, the producers of St. John’s Wort are not properly regulated, so the reality is that you might not be getting exactly what you think you are getting (an alarming University of Guelph study in 2012 showed that 1 out of 3 vitamins and supplements proved to be fakes!). So, think carefully before trying alternative medicine.
- Other therapies – There are many more options including some emergency medical options such as ECT (shock therapy) and the new ketamine treatment for depression.
Please keep trying to overcome your depression and to work on finding effective treatments for depression that work well for you personally. If you are reading this on behalf of a patient or friend, remember that it is very challenging to do anything at all while you are depressed and try to be very patient. It can be frustrating to deal with someone who is depressed because it might seem like they are not trying, like they are “wallowing” when in fact they just feel helpless and as though there is absolutely no hope.
If one treatment does not work, try another. Try two at the same time. Try three. Try more. It is worth it to see those clouds parting and to help your depression lift.
How to inoculate yourself against future depression
Once your depression does lift (and, as I said before, no matter what you do or do not do, it will eventually lift), take steps to inoculate yourself against a recurrence. Here are some things you can do:
- Make time in your life to explore creative interests (writing, painting, singing, dancing, drawing, etc.)
- Do things that bring you joy. Make a list of things that have ever brought you joy and then make a concrete schedule to do at least one of those things per week. Examples: swimming, running, biking, spending time around animals, helping people, listening to music, making music, etc.
- Make time for yourself.
- Make a plan to reduce the stress in your life. Learn mindfulness to cope with the stress that is unavoidable.
- Increase your physical activity. Forget about “no pain no gain”. Do it gradually so that you can enjoy it and not get injured.
- Improve your nutrition. Instead of “forbidden foods,” think about what healthy foods you love. For example, for years, I avoided cottage cheese because I only ever ate it while I was on a diet. Then, one day, I had a sudden revelation that I LOVE cottage cheese. You may not love cottage cheese, but there may be fruits or vegetables that you really enjoy. Make them part of your life. Ask your doctor if supplementing with a multivitamin, vitamin D, vitamin B12, or Omega-3 fatty acids is a good idea for you.
In these ways, you can help to prevent future depressive episodes or at least cope with them better if they occur.