Treating Depression: What Treatment Actually Works?

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Treating Depression: What Treatment Actually Works?

SO FAR in the Learning Path, we have looked at a lot of background on what clinical depression is, how it works, and what the facts are as far as research goes. Now you will see what this knowledge leads us to know about depression treatment.

  • What are the drug treatments for depression and just how effective are they?
  • How effective are alternative approaches, such as therapy, at treating depression?

How to best treat depression?

Recent depression research shows that how we perceive our depression, what we actually think it is, is actually important in the efficacy (efficiency) of the treatment we undergo. What this means is that knowing all the facts about depression, really understanding depression, is incredibly important.

So if you have completed the Depression Learning Path this far, you will be well placed to make the most of whatever treatment you choose.

Research into treating depression

So much research has been done on depression, the right information is out there. However with so many vested interests, as well as different fields of study, it’s hard to get a clear picture of what is actually the most effective way overall to beat depression for good.

Much of what you read here is based on a massive meta-study controlled by the US government, incorporated the findings of over 100,000 individual pieces of research. The research was carried out over a fifteen year period. (1)

The research compared the use of depression medication against various types of therapy. It also looked at how effective each treatment was at preventing further episodes of depression.

By comparing this volume of depression research on a “like for like” basis, we get a pretty clear picture of the most effective way of treating depression.

Treating depression with drugs

It’s possible that, like millions of others, you may be taking drugs (antidepressants) of some kind to treat depression. Antidepressants are often the first treatment option prescribed by health professionals.

By understanding that antidepressants actually treat what is a common symptom of depression, rather then the condition itself, we can begin to understand some key facts about antidepressants, namely:

  • Why antidepressants are only effective in around one third of cases, and partially effective in another third. The other third of cases get no benefit at all.
  • Why the rate of relapse is so high when depression is treated with antidepressants alone?
  • For many people, the side effects are more unpleasant than the depression itself, so they discontinue treatment.

We’ll also consider why, if these drugs are as good at beating depression as we are told, is depression on the increase, and sufferers treated solely with antidepressants have an 80% chance of having a second episode of major depression?

If depression is making you feel really bad, the relief that antidepressants can sometimes bring can be very welcome. However, if you want to have the best chance of avoiding a relapse further down the line, it is essential you get the right kind of therapy, or skills training. We’ll look at this later in the Depression Learning Path.

The cart before the horse

One of the main reasons given for depression being described as an illness (and therefore to be treated with drugs) seems, at the least paradoxical, if not misleading.

It is reasoned by some that the high rate of relapse after drug treatment indicates that depression should be treated as a chronic disease, i.e. treatment by long term, high dosage medication.

This is the explanation used, rather than the fact that drugs do not treat depression, merely the symptoms.

Yet, if we consider:

  • The average length of depression, if left untreated is 8 months.
  • Depression medication, typically, has to be taken for 6 weeks before it is known if it is effective or not, and then continued for 6 months.
  • Citing relapse as a reason, some treatments recommend a “3 phase approach’ which can last well over 2 years.
  • Other treatments, such as a combination of cognitive, behavioural and interpersonal therapy, have a much lower rate of relapse. (We recommend that relaxation techniques are also used, to calm the emotions and allow a faster, more effective participation in therapy. It is also essential that the patient’s lifestyle is checked to ensure that their basic emotional needs are being met.)
  • Also, we should take into account the side effects of drug treatments, which we will come to soon.

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