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Is there a cure for depression? From the character arcs in our favorite shows to the self-help gurus who bombard us with the promises of solutions, society has built a pretty substantial case that mild depression, like a cold, can be beaten if you just do the right things.
Unfortunately, life isn’t that simple. And unlike the common cold, most people with depression will not simply get over it — and even fewer do it without help.
We’d love to tell you that if you can just remember to journal every morning for 15 minutes and eat the right foods, your severe depression will be gone in two to three weeks. However, note that depression will never go away on its own. If you can just get those eight glasses of water in before bed (yes, the one you bring to the nightstand has to be finished) you’ll be depression-free in time for this weekend.
The reality, as you probably know, is that depression doesn’t work like that. There’s no major depression virus for your immune system to attack. Depression doesn’t know how hydrated you are, and it doesn’t care.
And while journaling may benefit your mental health in a lot of ways, you’re not going to graduate from depression when you hit a certain word count.
The good news is, depression doesn’t necessarily have to be one of those forever life-ruining mental health conditions, either, and there are plenty of reasons to have hope of making depression’s impact on your life a thing of the past.
But before we talk about ways to give depression the boot, we have to talk about the idea of “cures” in the world of mental health and why curing clinical depression isn’t really a “thing.”
Depression is a type of mood disorder, and we don’t understand everything about how or why it happens.
We do know that it can be caused by a variety of things, including your biology, your individual psychology, your environment and more — things like trauma, upbringing, biology, traumatic life experiences and even medical conditions.
If your parents had it, your risk increases. If your health is bad, your risk increases. If you’ve been through some traumatic life experience, your risk increases. Beyond that, our knowledge is still limited.
There are also many types of depression — you can learn more about the details in our guide to the symptoms, causes and types of depression.
Luckily, despite not knowing everything about depression, we do know what signs to look out for. A depressed person will generally exhibit several of the following, on a regular or daily basis for a period of at least two weeks:
Sleep disturbances or insomnia
Feelings of worthlessness
Suicidal thoughts and increased risk of suicide
Changes in weight
Changes in appetite
Sadness or hopelessness
Reduced pleasure or joy in life
There are plenty of effective treatments for the symptoms of depression, and some of them are considered quite effective. But, at the moment, there is no “cure.”
Most experts and expert-designed resources talk about depression treatment in terms of management — you manage the severity of depressive symptoms and actively, chronically work to change the way your brain thinks about things to avoid triggering depressive thoughts and depressive episodes.
Learn to do this well enough, sustain your efforts long enough and it may indeed seem like your depression is cured.
But this is a false assumption. Depression can be put into remission, but it can also be triggered into relapse by life events, changes in your health and other factors and events.
Will we have a definitive “cure” for depression at some point? Maybe. Who knows.
But for now, diligent care for your mental health is a daily preventative exercise if you have depression, and slip-ups expose you to the ever-present risk of relapse.
Even with medication, you’re not curing depression. Depression just isn’t something that goes away permanently, but it can be managed effectively.
Medication for depression is one of the best ways to do that. And there are a number of antidepressant medications that are effective at maintaining your mental health, primarily through chemical changes in the levels of certain neurotransmitters in your brain.
Medication typically takes the form of different types of antidepressants, including:
Monoamine oxidase inhibitors, or MAOIs
Tricyclic antidepressants, or TCAs
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs
Selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, or SNRIs
You can read more about each type of antidepressant in our Full Antidepressants List.
SSRIs tend to be the first-line choice when it comes to medication for depression, because they’re proven effective and typically cause fewer side effects than other antidepressants.
SSRIs prevent your brain from reabsorbing serotonin — a powerful neurotransmitter that, among other things, can help regulate your mood. With serotonin, you may not experience those super emotionally down, low crashes.
Unfortunately, some depressed brains tend to undersupply themselves with serotonin. SSRIs prevent the brain from scrapping its surplus, which means the next time a trigger sets your mood spiraling, there’s a safety net (though they do have some common side effects).
Beyond medication, there are other effective treatments for depression — everything from journaling to embracing a better diet and even getting better rest could be considered treatments for depression.
Exercise can also be a crucially beneficial part of your mental health. In the treatment of depression, some studies have shown that it can be as effective as some of the medications we mentioned above.
If, however, you’re doing your best to get your sleep (or simply unable to sleep because of depression) there are more effective, proven methods for getting some relief and support. These come in the form of medication and therapy.
There are many types of therapy that can be beneficial for depressive disorder treatment, but these days, the go-to solution is a therapeutic style called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.
CBT doesn’t resemble the “tell me about your childhood” therapy you may know from movies. Instead, it’s a system that helps you process intrusive thoughts and negative emotions that can lead to depressive episodes.
Over time, CBT patients learn to challenge depressive thoughts, reject them and replace them with healthier, more proactive thoughts and behaviors. The goal of which is to act as a sort of early protection against a rising depressive risk.
It’s not a cure, but it’s an awfully effective preventative strategy — especially when paired with medication.
It’s a great tool for many mental health issues, but like the medication track of treatment, it’s something a healthcare professional will need to help you understand. And that brings us to our most important recommendation: talking to someone.
Your quality of life is important, and your social activities, daily tasks and other responsibilities don’t have time to wait for medical care for depressive symptoms. Unfortunately, there is no cure.
The closest that you’ll likely get to “curing” depression anytime soon is proactively treating it so effectively that you no longer notice symptoms.
While we’d all like a magic pill for mood disorders (and would settle for a genie lamp) the reality of depression treatment is much more laborious and, frankly, tedious.
There are alternative therapies for depression too — interpersonal therapy, magnetic stimulation, electroconvulsive therapy, relaxation techniques, etc. — and you can talk with a healthcare professional about whether any of these are worth your time.
Luckily, the depression treatment methods we’ve discussed above are proven effective and have helped millions of people (and will continue to help millions more). Even more luckily, you don’t have to navigate the world of depression treatments alone.
Finding the right mental health professional to support you in your journey can be tough and take time — but it’s worth it.
If you’re looking for help, Hers’ online therapy platform can help you connect with mental health professionals for therapy and medication, and you can continue your search until you find the right person without having to navigate new offices, fill out new forms and reintroduce yourself every time.
It’s just one of the many mental health resources available to you right now.
While you can’t “cute” depression, you can beat it back.
Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.
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