Depression is a serious mental health illness that can have a significant impact on a person’s mood, self-image, personality and relationships. It is the leading cause of disability worldwide and affects more than 16 million people in the United States annually. Despite its widespread nature, depression is oftentimes misunderstood by the public, and treatment options vary greatly.
Depression is an illness that originates in the brain, and, as such, treatment cannot simply be about trying to make a depressed person happier. There comes a point where it is critical to incorporate both emotional and psychiatric support to combat this illness. This can be challenging, as not every treatment available will be effective for all patients. It may come down to trying several treatment options—or a combination of therapies—before finding something that works. Fortunately, there are many options when it comes to depression treatment, and they range from holistic treatments for depression to pharmacological interventions.
Having an understanding of which treatment options are available can be very empowering to a depressed patient. Below is a comparison of the key advantages and disadvantages of the various treatments available for depression.
For many who suffer from depression, the root cause is often an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain. These chemicals (neurotransmitters) impact mood and emotion. What antidepressant medications do is help to level off any of these imbalances, thereby improving the mood and reducing anxiety.
Antidepressants are one of the longest-standing treatment options for depression. Many of these medications are FDA approved, have been scientifically studied, and have been proven to be very effective when treating depression. They also offer flexibility and can be used with other treatment methods. Antidepressants are also non-addictive.
Even though medication has been proven effective, it does not always work for everyone. About 40% of patients will not experience relief with antidepressant medications alone. These medications can also take a long time before a patient reaps any benefits, and, therefore, it can take some figuring out to determine which medication is best. Another important factor is the negative side effects. These can be overwhelming for some people as they can include nausea, low libido, upset stomach, bloating and weight gain.
Talk Therapy (Psychotherapy)
Often prescribed in conjunction with medication, talk therapy can be very effective in treating depression if it is applied correctly. For many who suffer from depression, negative thought patterns can be just as detrimental as imbalances in brain chemicals. Talk therapy subsequently gives patients the tools they need to identify these patterns, and eventually overcome them.
Talk therapy helps patients develop coping mechanisms to assist them in dealing with their depression. This, in turn, allows the patient to feel less stressed and anxious. It is also non-invasive, there are no side effects, and it works well with other forms of depression treatments.
There are no guarantees that talk therapy will work. This method relies heavily on the relationship between the patient and the therapist. It is also uncomfortable for some people, and not as convenient, as it is quite time consuming. Talk therapy also cannot treat any chemical imbalances which are often an underlying cause of depression.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)
This form of treatment uses magnetic pulses to stimulate the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for mood regulation. TMS is painless and has much fewer side effects than anti-depressant medications. Patients usually undergo several weekly treatments for a set period of time.
TMS is a great alternative for those who do not like the side-effects of traditional medication. It is usually covered by all major insurance companies, and can be used in conjunction with talk therapy and medication.
As with talk therapy, TMS requires a time commitment. Some people do experience headaches as a negative side effect, and persons with certain underlying health conditions may not be eligible for this type of treatment.
Ketamine for Depression
First synthesized in the 1960’s as a painkiller and anesthetic, ketamine is now being used to treat the symptoms of depression. Studies have shown that ketamine targets different neurotransmitters from traditional antidepressants, which can help even out chemical imbalances in the brain.
The most notable advantage ketamine has over any other treatment option, is how quickly it works. Ketamine has been shown to alleviate depressive symptoms in a matter of hours, compared to weeks or months. It also works very well for patients who have not responded to other treatment options.
Since the use of ketamine for depression is relatively new, more research needs to be conducted regarding several aspects of the drug. Treatments are generally not covered by insurance, though there have been some exceptions in rare circumstance. Finally, while the research proves without a doubt that ketamine is highly effective, researchers still don’t know exactly how it works, leaving some unanswered questions about ketamine for depression.
Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)
Often confused with “electroshock therapy,” ECT involves the application of an electrical current sent briefly to the brain. This current triggers a brief seizure which is believed to cause a biochemical change to the brain which can result in diminishing or disappearing symptoms.
Like ketamine, ECT often works when all other treatment options have failed. It is also quick to work. Most patients see results after about six treatments, with full improvement taking slightly longer.
ECT is generally a safe treatment, however it does come with the risk of side effects. These can include confusion, memory loss, and physical side effects such as nausea and headaches.
Depression treatments come in all different shapes and sizes. The important thing is to not give up hope. Mental health professionals will make sure they try to put together the best plan for their patients. When it comes to the above treatments, they are continuously being improved upon with research. The future also holds promise for new options to help treat this mental illness.
Alleviant Health Centers of San Diego is proud to offer a wide range of depression treatments, ranging from psychotherapy and ketamine for depression, to TMS and other holistic treatments for depression. Request an appointment at our integrative health center today!