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Types of Treatment for Depression

Rashmi Nemade, Ph.D., edited by Kathryn Patricelli, MA

We've been discussing the complex causes of depressive disorders. At this point, someone might worry that depressive disorders are too complicated to respond to treatment. Because the disorder is so layered, there are many different treatment options available to someone who is depressed. We can confidently say that depression is a HIGHLY treatable condition. However, because depression is so individual in how symptoms appear, it is important that people work with their doctor to find the treatment (or combination of treatments) that is right for them.

depressed teenIt might seem like finding a treatment for depressive disorders should be a relatively straightforward process. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Patients sometimes go through a process of trying different options before finally receiving the treatment or combination of treatments that works best for them. Finding the best treatment for depression may try their patience.  Experimenting with different treatment options requires open-mindedness and flexibility. The benefits of being free from emotional and physical pain, and developing stable social and work relationships will outweigh the inconvenience and frustration of finding the right treatment.

Depressive disorders are most often treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Antidepressants help with some of the brain chemistry causes of depression. Psychotherapy helps people understand and then change their thoughts, behavior and social interactions with others that also cause or contribute to their depressed mood.

The type of treatment used depends on what symptoms are present and how severe they are. More severe cases of depression may require different and more frequent therapy than do milder cases of depression. Many people with depression can be treated on an outpatient basis, which does not require hospitalization. The person is typically treated through a clinic or less intensive setting. Outpatient therapy may involve medication and/or psychotherapy. When psychotherapy is recommended, people typically meet with a therapist on an individual basis.  In the case of group therapy, they meet with a leader and a group of individuals.  Either type of therapy usually happens at least once per week.

There are some situations where inpatient treatment is recommended including:

  • people with severe depression who may be engaging in self-destructive behavior.  This could include suicide attempts, refusing to eat, or refusing to get out of bed
  • people who are showing signs of psychotic behavior, such as hallucinations and delusions.

Inpatient treatment allows clinicians to continuously monitor patients.  This is done to make sure that treatments are working and to ensure that the person remains safe until depressive symptoms have lessened. Hospitalization may also be needed when patients require medication adjustments and must be taken off one medication in preparation to begin another one.  It can also be necessary when non-medication interventions such as electroconvulsive therapy are used.  Although many times electroconvulsive therapy is safely done on an outpatient basis.

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