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.
Antidepressants, especially when combined with talk therapy, generally help people recover from depression. Symptoms begin to improve within weeks for the majority of people taking antidepressants. And people who take antidepressants long-term -- up to 36 months -- have a relapse rate of only 18% compared to 40% for those who do not.
But if they work so well, why do so many people stop taking antidepressants within a few weeks of starting them? Or skip doses when they start to feel better?
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 depression.
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," Aikens says.
"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.