Depression and Treatment

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 17 million adult Americans suffer from depression during any one-year period. Depression can seriously impair a person’s ability to function in everyday situations. But the prospects for recovery for depressed individuals who seek appropriate professional care are very good. By working with a qualified and experienced therapist, those suffering from depression can help regain control of their lives.

Everyone feels sad or “blue” on occasion. However, depression occurs when feelings of extreme sadness or despair last for at least two weeks or longer and when they interfere with activities of daily living—such as working, or even eating and sleeping. Depressed individuals tend to feel helpless and hopeless and to blame themselves for having these feelings. People who are depressed may become overwhelmed and exhausted and stop participating in certain everyday activities altogether. Some may have thoughts of death or suicide. 

With many individuals depression signals first and foremost that certain mental and emotional aspects of a person’s life are out of balance. While there are significant transitions and major life stressors that can help bring about depression, other causes of depression are not always immediately apparent.  In either case, it is important to seek an evaluation and diagnosis by a trained mental health care professional. 

Depression is highly treatable when an individual receives competent care. Unfortunately, there is still some stigma, or reluctance, associated with seeking help for emotional and mental problems, including depression. Feelings of depression often are viewed as a sign of weakness rather than as a signal that something is out of balance. The fact is that people with depression cannot simply “snap out of it” and feel better spontaneously. Persons with depression who do not seek help suffer needlessly. Unexpressed feelings and concerns accompanied by a sense of isolation can worsen a depression. The importance of obtaining quality professional health care cannot be overemphasized.

The support and involvement of family and friends can play a crucial role in helping someone who is depressed. Individuals in the “support system” can help by encouraging a depressed loved one to stick with treatment and to practice the coping techniques and problem-solving skills he or she is learning through psychotherapy.

Medications can be very helpful for reducing symptoms of depression in some people, particularly for cases of moderate to severe depression. Some health care providers treating depression may favor using a combination of psychotherapy and medications. Some depressed individuals may prefer psychotherapy to the use of medications, especially if their depression is not severe. By conducting a thorough assessment, a licensed and trained mental health professional can help make recommendations about an effective course of treatment for an individual’s depression.

The American Psychological Association Practice Directorate gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Daniel J. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Lynne M. Hornyak, Ph.D., and Lynn P. Rehm, Ph.D. for providing this information on depression.