Skip to content

    Depression Health Center

    Healing Depression:
    Taking the First Steps

    You may be worried about depression for many reasons:

    • You can't stop feeling sad or crying.
    • You often feel angry.
    • You've lost interest in things you love.
    • You're having a hard time dealing with stress.

    Depression affects one in 10 -- or nearly 15 million -- adults in the U.S. If you think you might be depressed, don't try to tough it out. Make an appointment with a doctor or therapist.

    In this step-by-step guide you'll find out how to get the help you need, including:

    • Finding out more about treatment options
    • Understanding your depression
    • Learning which healthy habits, like exercise, can boost your mood

    At the end of this article you will find a list of more in-depth articles on many of these topics.

    Treating Depression

    Everyone feels sad sometimes. Depression is when those feelings of sadness get so intense that you feel helpless, hopeless, or worthless for longer than a few days. Sometimes you also may have trouble concentrating or sleeping and you may feel incredibly tired all the time.

    The good news is there are now many effective, proven ways to relieve depression.

    For most people, the first treatments a doctor will try are antidepressants and psychotherapy. Some studies have found that combining therapy with medication works better than medication alone.

    The important thing is that there are a lot of options. Keep reading to learn more about antidepressants, therapy, and healthy habits that can help.


    Some of the most common drugs for depression are Celexa, Cymbalta, Effexor, Lexapro, Paxil, Pristiq, Prozac, Remeron, Wellbutrin, and Zoloft. Doctors may try one of these drugs first.

    If they don't work for you, your doctor may suggest another type of medication or a combination of different medicines. There are many options with different benefits and side effects.

    How they work: Scientists think they work by helping to improve how nerve cells in the brain communicate.

    What to know: Unfortunately, doctors can't predict how well a specific medicine will work for someone. And unlike a pain reliever or a sleeping pill, antidepressants can take weeks or months to work. Don't get discouraged! With some trial and error, you and your doctor will find a medication that works for you. If your depression is hard to treat, your doctor may combine other medications with antidepressants.

    Side Effects

    You may have worries about side effects from taking medication.

    It's true that antidepressants may cause side effects, but the good news is that most people don't have any problem taking them. Depending on the medication, antidepressants may cause increased appetite and weight gain, low sex drive, insomnia, jittery feelings, dry mouth, blurred vision, and fatigue and drowsiness.

    These side effects don't affect everyone, and if they do, many times they eventually fade. But if they don't, your doctor can change your medicine or dosage or talk with you about how to manage side effects so they don't bother you as much.

    Counseling and Therapy

    Therapy is a key part of depression treatment. While it might not work as quickly as medication alone, some studies show that certain types of psychotherapy may help your medication work faster and have more lasting benefits.

    How it works: You may need to talk to several therapists until you find the perfect fit for you. You can take part in therapy either one-on-one, with your spouse or family, or in a group. Your therapist will help you determine what is right for you.

    Types of therapy: Several types of therapy may help with depression. Among them are:

    • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
    • Psychodynamic therapy
    • Interpersonal therapy

    Types of Therapy

    Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) works on the assumption that negative thinking affects your mood. It helps you see how your own thought patterns can contribute to your depression and teaches you practical ways to change them.

    Psychodynamic therapy helps you understand and cope better with problems by identifying and talking about unresolved conflicts that may be contributing to your depression.

    Interpersonal therapy focuses on helping you improve communication with family and friends and increase your self-esteem so you can interact with them in a healthy way.

    "Natural" Treatments for Depression

    You may have heard that some herbs and supplements can be used for depression. But do they work? So far, some studies have found that these supplements may help some people with mild depression. The strongest evidence is for:

    • SAMe
    • St. John's wort

    Supplements, like any drug, have side effects. And some can interact with medicines your doctor may prescribe, too. Be sure to talk to your doctor first before trying anything for your depression, especially if your symptoms are interfering with your everyday life.

    Exercise Can Help

    When you're depressed, just getting out of bed can seem hard enough. The idea of starting the day with a walk or jog might seem impossible. But exercise releases chemicals in the brain called endorphins, which boost your mood. Studies have shown that regular exercise -- even just walking -- can make you happier, build your stamina, and boost your self-esteem.

    Getting Started: Start with something simple, like a 10-minute walk around your neighborhood every morning. It's much easier to work your way up from there instead of setting goals that seem impossible to reach.

    Tips for Success: To help you stick to your goals, exercise with someone else. Meet a friend at the gym a few times a week or take after-dinner walks with a neighbor.

    Understanding Your Depression

    Nobody knows for sure what causes depression. But we do know that you don't have to have a "reason" to feel depressed. A combination of all sorts of things -- like stress, genetics, hormonal changes, emotional setbacks or tragedies, and even your gender -- can all work together to trigger depression.

    A lot of people have a hard time accepting that they may have depression. They feel ashamed. But depression is not something you brought on yourself. It's a disease, just like heart disease or diabetes.

    Depression can have a huge effect on your life. Without treatment, people may struggle for months or years feeling down or outright miserable. Their families and careers may suffer as well.

    That doesn't have to happen to you. With help, you can beat depression. But the longer you put off treatment, the harder it can be to get it under control.

    How to Get Started

    Ask your family doctor for a recommendation for a psychologist, social worker, or counselor. Although your primary care doctor can prescribe antidepressants, ask your doctor if you should work with an expert, like a psychiatrist. They have more experience with depression medicines and with psychotherapy.

    You also can ask friends or family for recommendations. The American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association have online locators. Call a therapist to learn a little about her approach before you meet.

    If you ever think about hurting yourself, get help immediately. Call your doctor or an emergency hotline or go to the ER right away.

    The sooner you start treatment, the sooner you'll be able to manage the feelings of sadness or fatigue that seem overwhelming right now.