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Depression – What It is and How to Treat It

Laymen often confuse depression with the type of sadness that everyone feels from time to time when life events create loss or worry. This can cause those suffering from depression to think that they should have the willpower to pull themselves out of their emotional state and confront the world with a fresh perspective without professional help.

Self-reliance, however, usually does not work for those with depression. Instead, they need effective therapies that will address their specific symptoms and learn techniques that will counteract the negative effects of stress, trauma, and other mental states.

Using Therapy to Diagnose Depression

Trained therapists can provide their patients with the most accurate diagnoses to help them determine whether they are depressed. Common symptoms include persistent sadness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much), and thoughts of suicide.

Therapy as a Treatment for Depression

One of the most successful therapies for treating depression is cognitive-behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on the connection between thoughts and feelings. From the perspective of this therapy, negative thoughts create depression, which in turn feeds the negative thinking patterns with more fodder for depression. Those with depression are essentially stuck in a cycle of negativity. Cognitive-behavioral gets at the root of the depression by addressing the thoughts that cause it. The therapy also helps clients learn healthy behaviors that will encourage them to cope with negative feelings.

Using Cognitive Therapy to Treat Depression

Therapists who use a cognitive-behavioral approach to treating depression often start by identifying distorted thoughts that are degrading the patient’s mental health. Distorted thoughts include unobtainable expectations, irrational beliefs and fears, catastrophizing, and pessimistic thinking.

Therapists teach their patients to challenge these thought distortions to help them recognize that their fears, pessimism, and discontents are often unfounded. For instance, a therapist might ask someone with aerophobia (a fear of flight) to write down what they fear will happen if they get into an airplane. The patient usually believes that something catastrophic will happen such as going insane from fear or crashing into a building. The therapist might then ask the patient to challenge these projections with realistic data such as the low number of plane crashes per year. This helps the patient change distorted cognates (thoughts) so that he or she can approach the fear from a logical position.

Treating Depression with Drug Therapy

Some doctors automatically prescribe medications for patients with depression. Antidepressants can have a positive effect on some people, but studies have shown that drugs work best when paired with cognitive-behavioral therapy or other psychotherapy techniques. In fact, some studies have shown that medications like Zoloft and Prozac are only about as effective without counseling as a regular exercise routine.

Patients with serious cases of depression some times need a variety of therapies to help them recover. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, drug therapy, exercise, and other techniques can provide significant effects. Not all patients, however, respond the same to these therapies, so patients should continue to see their doctors or counselors even when undergoing therapy options that seem benign.