How to recover from depression

Naomi Carr
Author: Naomi Carr Medical Reviewer: Morgan Blair Last updated:

Recovery from depression can be a challenging and ongoing process, and it may not always be possible to recover completely. However, there are several interventions and tips that can help with the recovery process, including professional treatments and self-help techniques.

How is depression usually treated?

The type of treatment offered for depressive disorders will depend on the individual’s symptoms, the type of depression, and the severity and duration of the condition.

For example, managing acute symptoms of depression where a person may be severely struggling to function or may be at a high risk of suicide involves attempting to stabilize the condition. Whereas, continuation or maintenance treatment may involve exploring the underlying causes of the mood disorder, further management of symptoms, and relapse prevention [1].

Typically, clinical depression is treated with a combination of therapy and medication [2].

Therapy

There are various types of therapy that can be useful in the treatment of depression, such as [2][3][4]:

  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT): IPT can help individuals explore and recognize their triggers and the underlying causes of their condition, discuss emotional distress, and learn skills to improve interpersonal relationships and emotional regulation.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT has been shown to be a very effective intervention in the treatment of depression. The focus of CBT is to recognize and alter negative or dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors, while learning skills inproblem-solving and managing emotional distress.
  • Family therapy: Family therapy can be helpful for adolescents living with their parents, or for cohabiting partners, and provides an opportunity to discuss familial conflict and dynamics and receive guidance to improve communication and problem-solving within the home.
  • Group therapy: Some may find group therapy helpful in obtaining a support network, providing a space to talk with others with similar experiences or symptoms, reducing feelings of loneliness, and helping to prevent relapse.

Medication

Typically, antidepressant medication will be prescribed to treat depression, which includes [3][4][5]:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): Such as sertraline, citalopram, and fluoxetine. SSRIs are often effective with few side effects, so are usually the first choice of medication.
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): Such as venlafaxine and duloxetine. SNRIs are also known to cause few side effects and may be prescribed if SSRIs are unsuccessful at managing depressive
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs): Such as imipramine, TCAs are an older type of antidepressant. Although they are equally effective at treating depression, these medications tend to cause more unpleasant side effects than the newer medications, so are usually only prescribed if SSRIs are ineffective.
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): MAOIs are the oldest type of antidepressant and are rarely prescribed now, due to their risk of drug interaction, severe side effects, and dietary restrictions. However, they may still be prescribed for depression with an atypical presentation or when several other medications have been ineffective.
  • Other antidepressants: Such as mirtazapine and bupropion, which have a similar effect to SSRIs and SNRIs but a slightly different action and are usually prescribed if SSRIs are not effective or if the individual has an undesirable response. Trazodone is another atypical antidepressant, which is an effective treatmentoption but causes significant sedation so is often used to treat sleep disturbances.

People respond differently to medications. What works for one person may not work as well for someone else. As such, it can require trying more than one medication before finding the most effective. Occasionally, other medications may be prescribed, either instead of or alongside antidepressants, such as anti-anxiety medication, antipsychotic medication, or mood stabilizers [4][5].

It is important to take medication exactly as prescribed to prevent adverse effects. Medications can cause side effects, which usually go away on within the first few weeks. However, you should consult with your doctor if any side effects persist or become problematic, as you may need a change in dosage or medication [1][2].

How to aid your recovery from depression

Alongside professional treatment for depression, there are many ways to help improve your own recovery process.

Diet

It is very common to eat unhealthy foods when feeling low, both for comfort and because preparing meals can feel too challenging, but it is important to try and maintain a balanced diet. Research shows that processed, high fat, high sugar foods can contribute to symptoms of depression, while vitamins and minerals found in healthy foods can help to improve mental and physical wellbeing [6][7].

Sleep hygiene

It is common for depression to cause sleep disturbances, which then leads to a worsening of symptoms. Trying to improve sleep hygiene can help to reduce symptoms of depression. By going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, avoiding screens before bed, and avoiding caffeine at night, you may be able to improve your sleep quality [4][8].

Exercise

Engaging in regular exercise has been found to improve symptoms of depression. Physical activity can help increase self-esteem, reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep quality, and improve social engagement, while also improving physical health [1][6].

Relaxation

Relaxation exercises, including mindfulness, breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga, can help to improve awareness of the mental and physical state and have been shown to be beneficial in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms [1][6].

Talk to someone

It can be very helpful to talk with a mental health professional, friend, or family member when experiencing emotional distress. Social support can reduce feelings of loneliness, improve social support, and help with processing difficult experiences [6].

Avoid drugs and alcohol

Drugs and alcohol can worsen your mental state and interact with medications, thereby exacerbating symptoms of depression and increasing the risk of relapse. As such, reducing or avoiding alcohol and drug use is important to the recovery process. If you feel you need professional help to manage this, your doctor can refer you to appropriate organizations and advisors [6].

How to prevent a relapse of depression

Unfortunately, relapse is common for people with depression but there are certain things you can do to help prevent a relapse from occurring, such as [1][5][9]:

  • Continue self-help techniques: Maintaining your physical and mental wellbeing with self-care tips that work for you can help to prevent a relapse of depression or a worsening of symptoms.
  • Attend all appointments with your doctor or professional: Ensuring that you always attend any planned appointments, such as check-ups with your doctor and therapy sessions, will help with maintaining your mental wellbeing and preventing relapse.
  • Take prescribed medications exactly as directed:If you are prescribed a medication, ensure that you take it every day, exactly as prescribed. Missing doses, taking too much, or taking too little, can cause adverse effects and increase your risk of relapse.
  • Recognize triggers and warning signs: It is often helpful to understand what triggers your symptoms, so that you can avoid or manage these circumstances. It is also helpful to learn how to spot warning signs of a relapse, such as worsening sleep quality, a decline in self-care and hygiene, withdrawing from friends and family, and an increase in negative thoughts and feelings.
Resources
  1. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. (2006, Updated 2020). Treatments for Depression. In InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279282/
  2. National Health Service. (Reviewed 2019). Treatment – Clinical Depression. NHS. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/clinical-depression/treatment/
  3. Karrouri, R., Hammani, Z., Benjelloun, R., & Otheman, Y. (2021). Major Depressive Disorder: Validated Treatments and Future Challenges. World Journal of Clinical Cases, 9(31), 9350–9367. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.12998/wjcc.v9.i31.9350
  4. Gautam, S., Jain, A., Gautam, M., Vahia, V.N., & Grover, S. (2017). Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Management of Depression. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 59(Suppl 1), S34–S50. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5545.196973
  5. Duval, F., Lebowitz, B.D., & Macher, J.P. (2006). Treatments in Depression. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 8(2), 191–206. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2006.8.2/fduval
  6. National Health Service. (Reviewed 2019). Living With – Clinical Depression. NHS. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/clinical-depression/living-with/
  7. Tello, M. (2020). Diet and Depression.Harvard Health. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/diet-and-depression-2018022213309
  8. Mind. (2020). How To Cope With Sleep Problems. Mind. Retrieved from https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/sleep-problems/tips-to-improve-your-sleep/
  9. Thase, M.E. (2006). Preventing Relapse and Recurrence of Depression: A Brief Review of Therapeutic Options. CNS Spectrums, 11(12 Suppl 15), 12–21. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1017/s1092852900015212
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Naomi Carr
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Naomi Carr serves as our talented writer, dedicated to raising awareness about mental health and providing support to those in need.

Published: Jul 12th 2023, Last edited: Sep 22nd 2023

Morgan Blair
Medical Reviewer Morgan Blair MA, LPCC

Meet Morgan Blair, our accomplished medical reviewer. Morgan is a licensed therapist with a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Northwestern University.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: Jul 12th 2023