Talking With Your Doctor About Depression Treatment

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For anyone with depression, the sooner treatment starts the better. Avoiding treatment can lead to longer and more severe depression. This makes it important to work with a doctor to devise a treatment plan.

The first step: Give your doctor as much information as possible. Tell the doctor about all your symptoms, medical conditions, medicines you take, and your family's medical history. Your doctor needs the facts. It helps the doctor be sure that nothing else is causing your symptoms.

The doctor you see about treating depression could be your primary care doctor. Or, it could be a psychiatrist. You also might see a psychologist or other mental health expert.

Finding the Best Treatment for You

The best treatment for your depression will depend on your symptoms. How you want to be treated also will play a role. The most common type of treatment is a combination of talk therapy, called psychotherapy, and antidepressant drugs. If your depression does not respond to these treatments, other options are available.

Psychotherapy

For mild to moderate depression, psychotherapy may be the best option. This treatment may even work as well as an antidepressant. Ask your doctor about different types of talk therapy. They include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy. Each type can be effective. And, by using just talk therapy, you can avoid the side effects of medication. You see a psychologist or other mental health professional for talk therapy.

Talk therapy helps you learn what thoughts and actions trigger your depression or make it worse. Changing your thoughts and behaviors can help you get better control over depression. It can also help you come up with better ways to cope with your symptoms. Research shows that these treatments can relieve symptoms, shorten depression, and help prevent depression from coming back.

Ask your doctor whether family or couples therapy might help. Depression often affects the whole family. Group therapy with loved ones can help relieve the stress that everyone may feel. The more your loved ones learn about depression, the better support they can offer. Having a good support system is an important part of treating depression.

Antidepressant Medicine

There are lots of options when it comes to antidepressants. The most common choice is an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor). Examples include Paxil (paroxetine), Prozac (fluoxetine) and Zoloft (sertraline). These drugs work by altering natural brain chemicals that are responsible for mood and emotion. 

SSRIs can take a few weeks to work. They generally have fewer side effects than older types of antidepressants. But, the side effects vary from drug to drug, so ask your doctor what to look for. They may include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Sleepiness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Agitation
  • Sexual problems

Be sure to tell your doctor about any other medicines you take. Some drugs, like some migraine headache medications, can be dangerous when combined with certain antidepressants. Some people taking SSRIs have reported extreme agitation, trouble sleeping, and suicidal thoughts during early treatment. But many people take SSRIs successfully with no side effects. It is important to keep in close contact with your doctor after you start treatment.

Use of these drugs can take a bit of trial and error. You may need to switch or add medications until you find what works best for you. Once you start, it is important to keep using the drugs as directed. It can be dangerous to stop their use on your own. Your doctor will give you specific instructions on how to start and stop taking your medicine.

Understanding Treatment-Resistant Depression

Sometimes depression does not respond to the usual treatments. This is treatment-resistant depression (TRD). You and your doctor can discuss the options for TRD. These include:

  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). This can be effective option for treatment-resistant depression. However, it has possible side effects, such as memory loss. Benefits can also fade with time.
  • Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS): This treatment stimulates the brain with magnetic waves.
  • Vagus nerve stimulation: This works by stimulating a large nerve that runs through the neck.
  • Magnetic seizure therapy: This combination of rTMS and ECT may be safer than ECT alone.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to have a good support system as part of your treatment plan. Take the time to explain your symptoms to your friends and family. Including your closest friends and family in a group therapy session may help.

Also, you should eat and sleep well, avoid stressful situations, and spend time with friends and family. Talk about your feelings and work closely with all your caregivers.

Ask your doctor about alternative treatments that can add to your well-being. These treatments could include yoga, meditation, exercise, massage and other relaxation techniques.

The bottom line: Depression is very treatable. Learn as much about it as you can. Talk to your doctor about all your treatment options. You may get better results from treatment and avoid needless suffering by starting treatment early.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Aug 19

  1. Understanding depression and effective treatment. American Psychological Association, July 2010. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/understanding-depression.aspx

  2. Men and Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/men-and-depression/index.shtml

  3. Treatment Options for Depression. Cleveland Clinic, June 2009. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/Depression/hic_Treatment_Options_for_Depression.aspx

  4. Frequently Asked Questions about Depression. Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. http://bbrfoundation.org/frequently-asked-questions-about-depression

  5. Introduction: Mental Health Medications. National Institute of Mental Health, 2008. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/mental-health-medications/index.shtml

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