Recovery from depression can be a long process. A variety of treatments for
depression exists, but they may take time before an effect is noticed. Weeks,
if not months, may pass between the time when you see a health care provider
about depression and when your mood starts to lift.
While some improvement may be seen after starting antidepressants, they can
take at least three weeks to start having an effect on your mood. What's more,
the first medication or combination of medications you try may not work for
you; in that case you'll have to start over.
Nearly 18.8 million Americans over age 18 suffer from major depression. Unfortunately, most people never seek treatment. Left undiagnosed and untreated, depression can worsen, lasting for years and causing untold suffering, and possibly even result in suicide.
Symptoms of depression include:
Loss of enjoyment from things that were once pleasurable
Loss of energy
Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
Difficulty making decisions
In the meantime, there are things you can do, as well as things you can
avoid, to help yourself feel better, or at least keep from sinking deeper into
You are somewhat responsible -- but not entirely responsible -- for your
state of mind, says psychologist James Aikens, PhD, an assistant professor of
family medicine and psychiatry at the University of Michigan.
"You're not responsible for being depressed. Your responsibility is to make
some reasonable efforts towards feeling better," he tells WebMD.
When you are deeply depressed, you may not feel like doing much of anything
or being with anyone. But rather than hiding out and doing nothing, it's best
to be active, even though you may not want to.
Ask yourself, Aikens says, "not what do I feel like doing, but how much am I
capable of doing?" But don't overreach, or else you may end up feeling worse if
you don't accomplish what you set out to do. "Aim for 80% or 90% of that goal,"
"The tendency to take on overly ambitious goals right away is actually quite
common in people who are depressed," says Dan Bilsker, PhD, a clinical
assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia in
Canada. Bilsker co-wrote a self-care guide for people with depression that is
freely available online from the university's Mental Health Evaluation and
Community Consultation Unit.
Don't assume you will be able to leap out of depression and turn your life
around immediately. "Start with some very small, detailed, specific goals,"
Bilsker tells WebMD.
Break tasks into smaller ones that you can accomplish more easily. For
example, maybe you haven't collected your mail for a while, and you know there
is a stack waiting for you. One day, you might make it your goal to simply pick
up the mail, and no more. The next day, you might sort it: Separate bills,
letters, junk mail, etc. The following day, you might toss the junk mail in the
recycling bin and open the bills, but not pay them. The day after that, pay one
bill. Then pay two more the next day, and so on.
"So not only break it up, but spread it out," Aikens says.