Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) affects 6 million American adults, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. But many other adults struggle with less severe forms of depression, anxiety, or just what is called “the blues.” The severity of symptoms and the level of success with strategies that do not include medication may determine whether or not you should go the medication route. Below are some common questions I receive, which may help guide you.
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Depression may share some of the same symptoms of being “low” or “having a bad week” but the symptoms are much stronger and enduring. Some common symptoms include:
- Intense sadness, persisting for weeks or more and causing disruption in your ability to work or maintain relationships. This may or may not be triggered by an event.
- Diminished interest in favorite activities and people whose company you used to enjoy
- Weight gain or loss
- Persistent sleep disruption, exhaustion, over-sleeping or insomnia that interferes with life
- Feelings of agitation, restlessness, or irritation you just can’t shake
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Feelings of worthlessness, death, or suicide
Sharing with your doctor or therapist the number, severity, and persistence of these symptoms will help determine the best course of action to help you.
What can I do short of taking medication?
Many of the things you can do to help your depression or low moods are also things you should continue to do even if you take medication. These strategies are known to help boost mood, change brain chemistry, and improve outlook in many people.
- Exercise as much as you can in a way that is enjoyable to you. If you didn’t exercise before, start with something simple like a daily walk in the park (if you like nature) or in the mall (if you like to shop).
- Silence the inner critic. This is, of course, easier said than done and usually requires help from a loved one or a professional.
- Identify the problems that may be causing these feelings and address them.
- Spend time with people. Being alone too much increases negative thoughts because you have more time to focus on yourself.
- Practice thankfulness. Again, the focus is on others rather than on you.
- Look into various natural remedies and new therapies that can address your problems without the side effects or expense of medication.
When is it a sign I should take medication?
If you’ve tried various strategies and you still feel depressed, or if you’re too depressed to try different strategies, you may need to talk to a physician who is an expert in depression medication to see what could help you. However, there are several caveats:
- Medication does not heal you, it can only lessen your symptoms.
- If you are on medication, you should also receive counseling to help you address underlying issues that have led to your depressed feelings.
- Medication does not always work. It may take up to 6-8 weeks to begin to have an effect, and if it doesn’t, a new medication or combination of medications need to be tried.
- Medication can have side effects that need to be carefully monitored.
What’s the bottom line? What should I do?
Each person’s situation is different, but if you’re struggling with severe sadness, mood swings, anxiety, or any of the other symptoms listed above, I urge you to speak to a therapist who is an expert in working with patients with these problems.
Sometimes, after consulting with a client, I may recommend some medication for the purpose of lessening symptoms enough to help the client take healing steps. But the goal is to ultimately heal you, not just medicate you. And this will always include therapy, for at least a period of time, to help you find the internal or external causes that led to your feelings and help you create your own personal road to healing and wellbeing.