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If you think you have depression, seek medical attention. When you seek and receive treatment in time, it will speed up your recovery and prevent the depression from getting worse.

Treatment for depression is primarily offered at primary care health centers and in occupational and school health care. If you feel so bad that you have thoughts of harming yourself or taking your life, you should contact the nearest emergency room or call 112.

Sometimes you need to be very active in order to receive treatment. This is unfortunate as depression is often exhausting and taking even the smallest of steps in order to begin treatment may seem very difficult.

Normally depression is treated with psychotherapy or antidepressant drugs, or a combination of both at the same time. Psychotherapeutic treatment is eg offered by psychologists or depression nurses (specially trained in depression treatment) at health care centres.

If your depression is mild or moderate, psychotherapy and drug treatment are probably just as effective, but if your depression is severe, you probably benefit more from drugs than from psychotherapy. If the depression becomes really severe, you can get hospital care.

Psy­chother­apy for depression

Psychotherapy has proven itself an effective treatment method for depression. Psychotherapy promotes recovery from depression for the following reasons:

  • With psychotherapy, you can learn to better identify your personal ways of thinking and will thus be able to change them. You can begin to understand why you think in a certain way and how to lose the harmful thoughts.
  • Your understanding of the reasons for and backgrounds of depression may increase. At the same time, this creates the chance to deal with grief and difficult issues.
  • Your perception and interpretation of feelings may change. Awareness and understanding of personal feelings may develop. You may learn to interpret yourself in new ways.
  • Your ability to give new meanings to personal problems may develop.
  • Your ability to see one’s own life situation from a new point of view may develop.
  • The changes in ways of thinking may result in changes in your close relationships, at work and in studies.
  • Psychotherapy may enhance the experience of agency, i.e. of being able to pursue your own goals in your life and community. 

Med­ica­tion for depression

Antidepressant medications affect alterations in brain physiology that have been found in depressive disorders. A combination of psychotherapy and medication is the recommended treatment. The more severe the depression, the greater the importance of the drugs. Sometimes people suffering from depression can be so tired they do not have the energy to commit to psychotherapy or deal with the difficult life situation without medication.

A patient suffering from depression will not feel the effects of the antidepressant medication right away; instead, their effect will gradually intensify within 2 to 8 weeks from the beginning of the treatment. The medication should not be interrupted, even if the medication may not seem to be working at first or the tiredness only seems to be getting worse. Insomnia is usually the first symptom of depression to be alleviated by the medication; it takes more time for the mood to improve.

If the prescribed medication does not seem to work, the doctor may replace it with another, change the dosage or include another drug in addition to that already being used. Some depressive states are better treated with psychotherapy than medication. Ideal treatment is usually a combination of psychotherapy and medication.

If the medication is working, it should be used for at least six months after the disappearance of the symptoms. Depression may recur if the treatment is discontinued too early. Treatment is always discontinued according to the doctor’s instructions; in order to minimise the symptoms caused by discontinuing the medication, the dosage is usually reduced gradually.

These symptoms may include headache, tiredness, sweating and irritability. The symptoms may occur when the body is readjusting to the discontinuation of medication. If the anxiety and depression continue or become worse after a month has elapsed since the ending of the treatment, it could be that the medication treatment was discontinued too early.

Some people suffering from depression should continue the medication treatment as so-called maintenance treatment long after the last depressive episode has ended. The medication should be continued for maintenance purposes especially if the depression has been severe, it involved self-destructive thoughts or there have been at least three severe depressive episodes.

Mak­ing use of peer sup­port

Peer support refers to activities where people who have experienced roughly the same issues or people in the same life situation share their experiences with each other. Peer support is based on mutual equality, on being heard and understood, as well as on encounters and support. The central goal of peer support groups is to promote coping and recovery. Peer support groups often have counsellors who help the group to focus on the future.

Fact check: Kristian Wahlbeck, Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry