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What about self-help for depression?

Answer by:
Dennis Lee, MD

Internist
Mission Internal Medical Group

Depressive disorders make people feel exhausted, worthless, helpless, and hopeless. Such negative thoughts and feelings make some people feel like giving up. It is important to realize that these negative views are part of the depression and typically do not accurately reflect reality. Negative thinking fades as treatment begins to take effect. In the meantime, the following are helpful guidelines and advice for the depressed person:

  • Eat healthy foods and make time to get enough rest to physically promote improvement in your mood.
  • Express your feelings, either to friends, in a journal, or using art to help release negative feelings.
  • Do not set overly difficult goals for yourself or take on excessive and unnecessary responsibilities.
  • Break large tasks into small ones, set some priorities, and do what you can when you can.
  • Try to maintain structure in your day, even if that means planning only one or two specific activities per day, like exercising or going food shopping.
  • Do not expect too much from yourself too soon, as this will only increase feelings of failure.
  • Try to be with other people, which is usually better than being alone.
  • Participate in activities that may make you feel better.
  • Try going for a walk or exercising, going to a movie or a ball game, or participating in religious or social activities.
  • Don't rush or overdo it. Don't get upset if your mood is not greatly improved right away. Feeling better takes time.
  • Do not make major life decisions, such as changing jobs or getting married or divorced without consulting others who know you well. These people often can have a more objective view of your situation. In any case, it is advisable to postpone important decisions until your depression has lifted.
  • Do not expect to just "snap out" of your depression. People rarely do. Help yourself as much as you can, and do not blame yourself for not being up to par.
  • Remember, do not accept your negative thinking. It is part of the depression and will improve as your depression responds to treatment.
  • Plan how you would get help for yourself in an emergency -- like calling friends, family, your physical or mental health professional, or a local emergency room -- if you thought you might harm yourself or someone else.
  • Limit your access to things that could be used to hurt yourself or others (for example, do not keep excess medication of any kind, firearms, or other weapons in the home).