Mirtazapine (Remeron), another antidepressant, is a tetracyclic compound (four-ring chemical structure). It works at somewhat different biochemical sites and in different ways than the other medications. It affects serotonin but at a postsynaptic site (after the connection between nerve cells). It also increases histamine levels, which can cause drowsiness. For this reason, patients take mirtazapine at bedtime; physicians often prescribe mirtazapine for people who have trouble falling asleep. Like the SNRIs, it also works by increasing levels in the norepinephrine system. Other than causing sedation, this medication has side effects that are similar to those of the SSRIs.
However, researchers have also been looking into ketamine for treating depression. And results have been encouraging. Ketamine may have a “rapid onset” of antidepressant effect, meaning that it can help people feel better quickly. That boost may be temporary, lasting just a few days. And unlike antidepressants you can take once a day at home, ketamine must be injected or given by IV. Repeated treatments at a clinic might be necessary to help produce a long-lasting antidepressant effect, and psychiatrists and family doctors might not feel comfortable doing that. But here’s the promise: Quicker relief that helps people start living their lives again — getting out of that depressive funk sooner.
McLean Hospital offers comprehensive mental health services to help children and adults living with mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. We utilize evidence-based treatment and therapy models informed by cutting-edge research conducted at McLean and around the world. By incorporating various approaches, treatment can be customized for each individual to help ensure recovery.
There is no shame in taking medication to manage your depression. People routinely take medication for physical ailments, and a mental illness isn’t any different. If you’re worried about the possible side effects, call your doctor to discuss them. Any medication can be tapered down or ceased, and there are different types available to suit your individual needs and chemistry.
Focus on behaviors. If the person is reluctant to seek help, then don’t try to convince the person that a mood disorder is causing the problems. Instead, talk about their behaviors and the ways in which treatment can help. For example, after you have listened and sympathized with the person’s feelings, try to agree on wellness goals (e.g., consistent sleep and feeling less irritable). Then, try to assign some action steps that you can agree on to reach these goals (e.g., after two weeks, if the person does not improve, you will set up a medical evaluation).
Understanding the main pharmaceutical options requires becoming familiar with a number of acronyms: SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), SNRIs (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), NDRIs (norepinephrine–dopamine reuptake inhibitors), TCAs (tricyclic antidepressants), and MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors). These represent categories of drugs, grouped together because of their effect on various neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in the brain.
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.
Stressful life events play a part in the onset or relapse of depression. Ongoing conflicts with others can take their toll on our well-being, as can other social and environmental stressors such as financial difficulties, retirement, unemployment, childbirth, loneliness, or loss of someone or something important. In vulnerable people, these unpleasant life events may be enough to cause or worsen a depressive illness.
Behavioral activation is the practice of gradually increasing activity to experience more pleasure and mastery in life, according to Joel Minden, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the Chico Center for Cognitive Behavior Therapy. The therapeutic technique is relatively new, so it has a limited amount of research backing it. Nonetheless, it did spring from cognitive behavior therapy [CBT], which has mountains of research to support its efficacy.
People living with high-functioning anxiety and depression usually do not fit the stereotype of either disorder. In fact, many appear to be overachievers. The anxiety can serve as an energizer, driving the person towards achieving his or her goals. It’s later, when in private, that the symptoms of depression tend to emerge. Feelings of self-doubt and self-criticism, fatigue, helplessness or guilt, moodiness, and a desire to avoid interaction with others become intensified. Because the stereotypical image of depression or anxiety doesn’t match up with what people living with high-functioning anxiety and depression “look like,” it is hard to spot, even for sufferers to recognize in themselves. However, the symptoms of high-functioning anxiety and depression are the same as for non-high functioning anxiety and depression. The main difference is the ability to suppress or diminish the appearance of disruptions in life activities.
Rebecca, age 57, struggled with depression and had a few wake-up calls as a smoker. She felt depressed and smoked cigarettes to help her cope with her feelings. The more Rebecca smoked, the harder it seemed to quit. Rebecca finally quit smoking after getting care for her depression and realizing that she had to take care of her own health. She now leads a new, smokefree life.
Problem-focused coping leads to lower level of depression. Focusing on the problem allows for the subjects to view the situation in an objective way, evaluating the severity of the threat in an unbiased way, thus it lowers the probability of having depressive responses. On the other hand, emotion-focused coping promotes depressed mood in stressful situations. The person has been contaminated with too much irrelevant information and loses focus on the options for resolving the problem. They fail to consider the potential consequences and choose the option that minimizes stress and maximizes well-being.
Be patient. Once you and your doctor have selected an antidepressant, you may start to see improvement in a few weeks, but it may take six or more weeks for it to be fully effective. With some antidepressants, you can take the full dosage immediately. With others, you may need to gradually increase your dose. Talk to your doctor or therapist about coping with depression symptoms as you wait for the antidepressant to take effect.
A very small number of people have had heart problems, epileptic fits or liver damage while taking antidepressants. It is believed that these were rare side effects of antidepressants. Various studies suggest that teenagers consider suicide more often when taking SSRIs or SSNRIs and also actually attempt to take their own lives more often. Teenagers should see their doctor or therapist more regularly at the beginning of treatment so that any risk of suicide can be identified early on.
Educate Yourself. Depression is a type of illness, and illnesses tend to make people feel out of control. One way to regain a sense of control is to educate yourself about your illness. You can do this by talking with your doctors and therapists, by listening to what other people who have had depression have to say about it, and by reading as much as you can. The more you know about what depression is and how it may be treated, the better chance you have of figuring out the combination of treatments and techniques that will help you feel better. There are literally thousands of self-help books out there for depression. Some of them are even worth reading. We provide a list of such books we consider worthwhile at the end of this document.
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].
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.
Maybe. Some medicines, such as some types of antidepressants, may make it more difficult for you to get pregnant, but more research is needed.15 Talk to your doctor about other treatments for depression that don’t involve medicine if you are trying to get pregnant. For example, a type of talk therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps women with depression.16 This type of therapy has little to no risk for women trying to get pregnant. During CBT, you work with a mental health professional to explore why you are depressed and train yourself to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Certain mental health care professionals specialize in depression related to infertility.
Depression can affect anybody; young or old, rich or poor, man or woman. While depression can affect anyone, at anytime, it does seem to strike most often when a person is going through changes. Changes can be negative life changes such as the loss of a loved one or a job, regular life changes such as starting university or a big move, or physical changes such as hormonal changes or the onset of an illness. Because depression can be linked to change, certain groups of people are at risk more often than others:
Just as there are many different experiences of anxiety and depression, there are a variety of options for treatments and coping techniques to help manage symptoms. The recommendations in this section take an integrative mental health approach, which incorporates health-promoting lifestyle changes; evidence-based holistic therapies and healing practices; and mainstream interventions, including psychosocial therapies and the judicious use of prescription medication. We cover each of these areas in detail--click the links or see the menu on the left for more information.
The most important thing anyone can do for the depressed person is to help him or her get an appropriate diagnosis and treatment. This help may involve encouraging the individual to stay with treatment until symptoms begin to go away (usually several weeks) or to seek different treatment if no improvement occurs. On occasion, it may require making an appointment and accompanying the depressed person to the doctor. It may also mean monitoring whether the depressed person is taking medication for several months after symptoms have improved. Always report a worsening depression to the patient's physician or therapist.
TCAs are safe and generally well tolerated when properly prescribed and administered. However, if taken in overdose, TCAs can cause life-threatening heart-rhythm disturbances. Some TCAs can also have anticholinergic side effects, which are due to the blocking of the activity of the nerves that are responsible for control of the heart rate, gut motion, visual focus, and saliva production. Thus, some TCAs can produce dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, and dizziness upon standing. The dizziness results from low blood pressure that occurs upon standing (orthostatic hypotension). Anticholinergic side effects can also aggravate narrow-angle glaucoma, urinary obstruction due to benign prostate enlargement (hypertrophy), and cause delirium in the elderly. Patients with seizure disorders or a history of strokes should avoid TCAs.
Antidepressants can have central and peripheral anticholinergic effects, as well as sedative effects, and can block the active reuptake of norepinephrine (NE), serotonin (5-HT), and dopamine. SSRIs are metabolized via the cytochrome P-450 system and may have drug interactions on that basis. The degree of enzyme inhibition varies among SSRIs. Effects on blood levels and bioavailability of coadministered drugs, as well as pharmacodynamic interactions, account for most clinically significant SSRI-drug interactions.
Spend Time With Pets. Many depressed people find that it is comforting to spend time with their pets. Pets offer unconditional love and do not make complicated demands on depressed people. They are often great listeners (even though they don't really understand what you are saying). Feeding pets is a loving act. Taking pets for a walk (if that is appropriate) can become a regular exercise routine with multiple benefits for both pet and owner.
Anxiety Disorders are characterized by a sense of doubt and vulnerability about future events. The attention of anxious people is focused on their future prospects, and the fear that those future prospects will be bad. Anxiety Disorders are characterized by a variety of symptoms involving anxious thoughts, unexplained physical sensations, and avoidant or self protective behaviors.
Additionally, the symptoms must last for two or more weeks and cause significant disruption of life functions. But to be diagnosed with dysthymia, a person need only have two of the recognized diagnostic symptoms, one of which is a mood that is persistently dark or gloomy, and the symptoms must be present on most days for at least two years. It is possible to have periods of time that are “symptom free,” but the break cannot last longer than two months.
Some types of depression run in families, indicating an inheritable biological vulnerability to depression. This seems to be the case, especially with bipolar disorder. Researchers have studied families in which members of each generation develop bipolar disorder. The investigators found that those with the illness have a somewhat different genetic makeup than those who do not become ill. However, the reverse is not true. That is, not everybody with the genetic makeup that causes vulnerability to bipolar disorder will develop the illness. Apparently, additional factors, like a stressful environment, are involved in its onset and protective factors, like good support from family and friends, are involved in its prevention.
Some medical conditions can trigger depressive symptoms in individuals. This is called depressive disorder due to another medical condition. Endocrine and reproductive system disorders are commonly associated with depressive symptoms. For example, people with low levels of the thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) often experience fatigue, weight gain, irritability, memory loss, and low mood. When the hypothyroidism is treated it usually reduces the depression. Cushing's syndrome is another hormonal disorder caused by high levels of the hormone cortisol which can also cause depressive symptoms. Other conditions that have been found to cause depression include conditions such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes, strokes, Parkinson’s disease etc.
Increasingly, doctors may use a combination of antidepressants from different classes or add a medication from a completely different chemical class, such as Abilify or Seroquel, that are thought to enhance the effectiveness of antidepressant medication more rapidly than adding or switching to a second antidepressant. Also, new types of antidepressants are constantly being developed, and one of these may be the best for a particular patient.
Postpartum depression is much more serious than the “baby blues” (relatively mild depressive and anxiety symptoms that typically clear within two weeks after delivery) that many women experience after giving birth. Women with postpartum depression experience full-blown major depression during pregnancy or after delivery (postpartum depression). The feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion that accompany postpartum depression may make it difficult for these new mothers to complete daily care activities for themselves and/or for their babies.