Many medications and therapies help with symptoms of depression and anxiety. Antidepressants reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety because they change how the brain sends chemical signals. Sometimes a single method can help both symptoms of depression/anxiety and headache. However, many patients require two different drugs or behavioral treatments for a period of time. They need one to treat depression/anxiety and another to prevent migraines.
Depression, also known as clinical or major depression, is a mood disorder that will affect one in eight Canadians at some point in their lives. It changes the way people feel, leaving them with mental and physical symptoms for long periods of time. It can look quite different from person to person. Depression can be triggered by a life event such as the loss of a job, the end of a relationship or the loss of a loved one, or other life stresses like a major deadline, moving to a new city or having a baby. Sometimes it seems not to be triggered by anything at all. One of the most important things to remember about depression is that people who have it can’t just “snap out of it” or make it go away. It’s a real illness, and the leading cause of suicide.
Losing a loved one, getting fired from a job, going through a divorce, and other difficult situations can lead a person to feel sad, lonely and scared. These feelings are normal reactions to life's stressors. Most people feel low and sad at times. However, in the case of individuals who are diagnosed with depression as a psychiatric disorder, the manifestations of the low mood are much more severe and they tend to persist.
In the practice of evidence-based medicine, it’s considered less wise to prescribe treatments that rely too heavily on hypothetical explanations for how they might work in the body. Instead, we should rely on high-quality, low-bias research that proves which treatments work best. In that light, take the Botox research — and for that matter, Celebrex and ketamine too — with a few grains of salt. The Botox review looked at a very small number of patients, and the researchers were looking at their own original clinical trials. A couple of them have ties to Botox’s maker, Allergan. All three approaches need more research on benefits and harms.
Mental health researchers agree that the causes of depression are much more complex than the chemical imbalance theory suggests. A growing body of research points to other physiological factors, including inflammation, elevated stress hormones, immune system suppression, abnormal activity in certain parts of the brain, nutritional deficiencies, and shrinking brain cells. And these are just the biological causes of depression. Social and psychological factors—such as loneliness, lack of exercise, poor diet, and low self-esteem—also play an enormous role.
SNRIs can be used as first-line agents, particularly in patients with significant fatigue or pain syndromes associated with the episode of depression. The SNRIs also have an important role as second-line agents in patients who have not responded to SSRIs. Safety, tolerability, and side-effect profiles are similar to those of the SSRIs, with the exception that venlafaxine and desvenlafaxine have been associated (rarely) with a sustained rise in blood pressure. Venlafaxine has been particularly associated with hyponatremia.
Self-help—For mild depression, or when moderate or severe depression begins to improve with other treatments, there are some things you can do on your own to help keep you feeling better. Regular exercise, eating well, managing stress, spending time with friends and family, spirituality, and monitoring your use of alcohol and other drugs can help keep depression from getting worse or coming back. Talking to your doctor, asking questions, and feeling in charge of your own health are also very important. Always talk to your doctor about what you’re doing on your own.
For full recovery from a mood disorder, regardless of whether there is a precipitating factor or it seems to come out of the blue, treatments with medication, phototherapy and/or brain stimulation therapies, like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), as well as psychotherapy and participation in support groups are often necessary.
Many people living with high-functioning anxiety and depression are described as Type-A personalities or overachievers. They often excel at work or appear to be “super mom/dad” and seem to have it all under control. Other people may notice signs of high-functioning anxiety and depression but characterize the behaviors as “anal retentive” quirks or bad habits. And, many times, signs and symptoms of high-functioning depression and anxiety that others observe are given positive attributes, rather than being seen for what they are. For instance, anxiety and worry may be expressed as dwelling on minor details and viewed as perfectionism. What observers generally do not see are the private struggles with stress, sleeplessness, digestive issues, self-criticism, or feelings of sadness and gloom that had to be overcome to attain achievements.
A key feature of depression is inactivity. People find that they are doing less and then feel even worse because they are doing less. Behavioural strategies for depression aim to identify and change aspects of behaviour that may worsen depression. People are encouraged to act against the depression by increasing activities, even though this is the last thing that they feel like doing. Relevant behavioural strategies include activity scheduling, social skills training, structured problem solving, and goal planning. One of the advantages of this form of treatment for depression is that once acquired, these new behavioural styles can be applied throughout life, minimising relapse or recurrence of depression.
We are close to having genetic markers for bipolar disorder. Soon after, we hope to have them for major depression. That way, we can know of a child's vulnerability to depression from birth and try to create preventive strategies. For example, we can teach parents the added importance of providing a supportive and otherwise healthy environment given their child's vulnerability. Parents can also be taught the early warning signs of depression so that they can get treatment for their children, if necessary, to ward off future problems.
Although many people are fearful of ECT, this technique is arguably the safest and most effective medical treatment for severe depression although there can be some memory related side effects. ECT is more rapid in its effect than antidepressant drugs, and CBT and antidepressants remain useful adjuncts to treatment since they can help prevent relapse after ECT is completed.
TCAs have a long record of efficacy in the treatment of depression and have the advantage of lower cost. They are used less commonly because of the need to titrate the dose to a therapeutic level and because of their considerable toxicity in overdose. TCAs are often prescribed for many other psychiatric disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder. They are also used to treat chronic pain, such as neuropathy, and migraine headaches.
For example, abruptly stopping an SSRI such as paroxetine can cause dizziness, nausea, flu-like symptoms, body aches, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, and vivid dreams. These symptoms typically occur within days of abrupt cessation, and can last one to two weeks (up to 21 days). Among the SSRIs, paroxetine and fluvoxamine cause more pronounced discontinuation symptoms than fluoxetine, sertraline, citalopram, escitalopram, vortioxetine, and vilazodone. Some patients experience discontinuation symptoms despite gradual tapering of the SSRI. Abrupt cessation of venlafaxine, duloxetine, desvenlafaxine, or levomilnacipran can cause discontinuation symptoms similar to those of SSRIs.
355 million people are affected by depression, making it one of the most common disorders in the world. Over 40 million American adults are affected by anxiety, making anxiety disorders the most common mental health conditions in the United States. At McLean Hospital, we are committed to providing support for individuals with depression and anxiety through world-class treatment, innovative research into causes and cures, and robust education for patients and families, clinicians, and the broader community.
Sticking to your treatment plan is one of the most important things you can do. It’s easy to get discouraged in the first few weeks of treatment. You may not want to continue. All types of treatment can take a few months before you notice a difference. It’s also easy to feel like you’re doing much better and stop treatment all together. Never stop treatment without consulting your doctor first.
Data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shows that in 2014, an estimated 15.7 million adults in the United States reported having at least one major depressive episode in the previous 12 months. That is 6.7% of all U.S. adults ages 18 and older. SAMHSA records from 2014 also note that an estimated 2.8 million adolescents reported having at least one major depressive episode in the previous 12 months. That number is 11.4% of all U.S. adolescents ages 12 to 17.
The birth of a baby can trigger mood swings or crying spells in the following days or weeks, the so-called baby blues. When the reaction is more severe and prolonged, it is considered postpartum depression, a condition requiring treatment because it can interfere with the ability to care for the newborn. Depression can also occur seasonally, primarily in the winter months when sunlight is in short supply. Known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, it is often ameliorated by daily exposure to specific types of artificial light.
Even in the most severe cases, depression is highly treatable. The condition is often cyclical, and early treatment may prevent or forestall recurrent episodes. Many studies show that the most effective treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy, which addresses problematic thought patterns, with or without the use of antidepressant drugs. In addition, evidence is quickly accumulating that regular mindfulness meditation, on its own or combined with cognitive therapy, can stop depression before it starts by effectively disengaging attention from the repetitive negative thoughts that often set in motion the downward spiral of mood.
Bennabi D, Yrondi A, Charpeaud T, Genty JB, Destouches S, et al. Clinical guidelines for the management of depression with specific comorbid psychiatric conditions French recommendations from experts (the French Association for Biological Psychiatry and Neuropsychopharmacology and the fondation FondaMental). BMC Psychiatry. 2019 Jan 30. 19 (1):50. [Medline].
It’s the Catch-22 of depression recovery: The things that help the most are the things that are the most difficult to do. There is a big difference, however, between something that’s difficult and something that’s impossible. You may not have much energy, but by drawing on all your reserves, you should have enough to take a walk around the block or pick up the phone to call a loved one.
A person’s personality characteristics are an important factor. When people are depressed, they usually have a very negative view of themselves and the world. They do not appreciate good things, and bad things seem overwhelming. Some people have a tendency to view things this way even when they are not depressed. In other words, they may have a depressive personality style.
Clinical depression is different from normal sadness — like when you lose a loved one, experience a relationship breakup, or get laid off from work — as it usually consumes a person in their day-to-day living. It doesn’t stop after just a day or two — it will continue for weeks on end, interfering with the person’s work or school, their relationships with others, and their ability to just enjoy life and have fun. Some people feel as if a huge hole of emptiness has opened inside when experiencing the hopelessness associated with this condition. In any given year, 7 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with this condition; women are 2 to 3 times more likely to be diagnosed than men (American Psychiatric Association).
Persistent Depressive Disorder; refers to a longer lasting form of depression. While Major Depressive Disorder is diagnosed if an individual experiences symptoms for at least 2 weeks, Persistent Depressive Disorder is used when symptoms of depression are present on most days for at least two years, but do not reach the severity of a major depressive episode. (Prior to the release of the DSM-5 this was more commonly known as Dysthymia.)
Stay active. Exercise can make a difference to your energy levels and help stimulate hormones (such as endorphins) that help you feel better about yourself. Make a realistic goal to increase your level of activity. For example, if you’ve found it difficult even to get out of bed for the last few days, an achievable goal might be just to go for a walk outside in the fresh air for five minutes.
We are learning more about the interactions of the neurochemicals, the chemical messengers in the brain, and their influence on depression. Moreover, researchers now study new categories of neurochemicals, such as neuropeptides and substance P. As a result, we will soon be able to develop new drugs that should be more effective with fewer side effects. We are also learning startling things about how maternal stress early in pregnancy can profoundly affect the developing fetus. For example, we now know that maternal stress can greatly increase the risk for the fetus to develop depression as an adult.
In comparison to men, women tend to develop depression at an earlier age and have depressive episodes that last longer and tend to recur more often. Women may more often have a seasonal pattern to depression, as well as symptoms of atypical depression (for example, eating or sleeping too much, carbohydrate craving, weight gain, a heavy feeling in the arms and legs, mood worsening in the evenings, and trouble getting to sleep). Also, women with depression more often have anxiety, eating disorders, and dependent personality symptoms compared to men.
High-functioning anxiety and depression is treated the same way as other anxiety and depressive disorders, through psychotherapy and medication. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) combined with antidepressants or antianxiety medications can be very effective and shows improved outcomes over treatment that employs only therapy or medication. Residential treatment can also be beneficial for people living with high-functioning anxiety and depression. Residential treatment allows for individuals to get care in a home-like setting, but in a controlled environment away from home, possible triggers, and the rigors of daily life.
Several types of psychotherapy (also called “talk therapy” or, in a less specific form, counseling) can help people with depression. Examples of evidence-based approaches specific to the treatment of depression include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT), and problem-solving therapy. More information on psychotherapy is available on the NIMH website and in the NIMH publication Depression: What You Need to Know.