If depression is diagnosed, you may be treated with drugs, a psychological therapy, or therapy and drugs. Rarely, severe cases are treated with electroconvulsive therapy.
If your depression is mild, your symptoms may disappear spontaneously if you are given sympathy and support from those close to you.
However, if you do need help for depression, it can almost always be treated effectively, and you should not put off seeing your doctor if you continue to feel low. He or she may examine you and arrange for blood tests to make sure that your low energy levels and mood are not caused by a physical illness. You may be asked to have a psychological assessment in case there are other mental health problems that may be causing or contributing to your depression.
The doctor usually prescribes a course of antidepressant drugs. There are several different types, and your doctor will choose the one most suitable for your needs. Although some have undesirable side effects, other side effects may be useful. For example, an antidepressant drug that is mildly sedating may relieve a sleeping problem. Your mood usually improves after you have been taking an antidepressant for 2-4 weeks, although some symptoms may improve more quickly.
If your depression shows little improvement after a month or if you have troublesome side effects from your treatment, your doctor may adjust the dosage or prescribe an alternative drug. Once your depression has lifted, you should continue taking antidepressants for as long as your doctor suggests. Treatment usually lasts for at least 6 months, but the length of time depends on the severity of the depressive symptoms and whether you have ever had any previous episodes of depression. Depression may recur if antidepressant drugs are stopped too soon.
Support from your doctor or other health professionals is essential while you are depressed. Your doctor may refer you to a therapist for treatments such as cognitive therapy to help you to change negative patterns of thinking or psychoanalytic-based psychotherapy to look into the reasons for your depression. Counselling, either on an individual basis or as part of a group, may help you to identify your feelings and make sense of them.
In rare cases, treatment with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is given for severe depression. In this procedure, which is carried out under general anaesthesia, an electrical stimulus that causes a brief seizure in the brain is given by placing two electrodes on the head. Between 6 and 12 treatments may be given over a period of about 1 month. ECT is particularly useful for treating depression that is accompanied by delusions. After treatment, antidepressants are given for at least a few months to prevent relapse.
What is the prognosis?
Antidepressants are effective in treating about 3 in 4 people with depression. When drug treatments and psychological therapy are used in combination, the symptoms of depression can often be relieved completely in 2-3 months. Of the small number of people who are treated with ECT, about 9 in 10 make a successful recovery. However, for some people, depression can last for years or recur with no obvious trigger.
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