The World Health Organization names depression as the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. Depression is a devastating condition that can significantly impact the quality of life. This condition negatively affects the health of the mind, as well as some physical symptoms. Feelings of hopelessness, severe fatigue, aches, and pains, as well as anxiety and difficulty sleeping, are just some of the symptoms of this condition.
The severity of the mind and body symptoms of this mental health condition can make daily living very difficult. This includes work, school, relationships, and even just basic activities of daily living like taking care of oneself. That’s why it’s so important to continue research to find ways to treat depression effectively.
Currently, treatment for depression involves a combination of medications, psychotherapy, and in some severe cases, brain stimulation therapy. However, besides medical treatment, it’s essential for those with depression to have a support system around them. Such a system can help them to take care of themselves alongside such treatments. Also, physical exercise, as well as changes in the diet, can help alleviate some symptoms of depression.
There is continuous research going on to find new potential treatments for depression symptoms. Such new treatments include the compounds cannabidiol and esketamine. These treatments are in the early stages of research and approval. However, they show promise to help improve the quality of life for those suffering from depression. Read below to learn more about depression and the latest research on treatment options and information on supportive resources.
Most people have felt sad or hopeless at some point in life. However, it’s when these feelings are chronic and negatively impact the quality of life that it may qualify as depression. Common symptoms of depression include:
- Persistent sadness or anxiety
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
- Decreased energy or fatigue
- Moving or talking more slowly
- Feeling restless
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Sleep issues
- Appetite and weight changes
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
- Aches, pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause
Many of these symptoms may seem non-specific. Therefore, it’s when you experience any of the above symptoms every day for at least two weeks straight that may indicate you have depression. It’s important to note that not everyone will have every symptom. Also, the severity and duration of symptoms will determine the stage of the depressive disorder a person has.
What are the Current Treatment Options for Depression?
Depression treatment currently consists of either medication, psychotherapy, and/or electrical stimulation therapy.
Medications usually consist of antidepressants that come in many forms. They work in different ways to improve the way your brain uses certain chemicals to control mood. There is no “one-size-fits-all” antidepressant. That’s why a person may need to try several different kinds before they find one that works for them with minimal side effects. Not only that, but antidepressants are not an instant fix. It takes at least two weeks for the body to adapt to the medication before you notice changes in symptoms.
A conventional medication given to those with depression is known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). This type of antidepressant is universal since it is considered well-tolerated and safe. However, sometimes, medications alone are not enough to manage the symptoms of some individuals with depression.
Therapy is a common addition to medication treatment. There are several types of talk therapy that include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), or problem-solving therapy. CBT is a solution-based therapy method that involves helping a patient to modify distorted emotions, behaviors, and thoughts.
Meanwhile, IPT involves a focused approach to help patients reduce distress by assisting them in improving the quality of relationships. It does this by teaching them to address unfulfilling relationships, unresolved grief, difficult life transitions, and conflicting expectations.
Finally, problem-solving therapy involves what it says it does. This type of treatment involves teaching patients to develop problem-solving skills. This can help them to better deal with issues in their lives more independently and help build their confidence.
Brain Stimulation Therapy
Outside of medication and talk therapy, there is also brain stimulation for more severe cases of depression. This type of treatment, also known as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), involves a series of sessions over a period of weeks. These sessions include a patient receiving a muscle relaxant and general anesthesia before receiving a few minutes of electrical impulses. This type of therapy is only for those with severe mental health disorders that do not respond to medication or other treatments.
Outside of ECT, other more recently developed forms of brain stimulation include transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and vagus nerve stimulation (VNS). TMS is like ECT in its purpose, but has minimal side effects, unlike ECT, which may cause seizures.
And VNS, which was initially a treatment for seizures, involves an electrical pulse generator implanted under the skin. This implant provides intermittent electrical stimulation to the vagus nerve in the neck. This method of brain stimulation, like the others, can treat symptoms in those with depression who don’t respond to medicine.
How can Lifestyle Changes Treat Depression?
In addition to the above conventional treatments for depression, lifestyle changes can also be a vital part of treatment. Such lifestyle changes include exercise, diet changes, and meditation.
Research shows that regular exercise can be an effective adjuvant treatment for depression. Exercise can improve sleep quality and duration, weaken the inflammatory response, as well as help reduce illegal substance use. In fact, a 2019 study shows that aerobic exercise can be an effective antidepressant intervention. Researchers suggest an average of 45 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, three times weekly, and for at least nine weeks.
Since moving around may be difficult for those with depression to initiate, this treatment option may be difficult at first. However, experts suggest that by just starting to walk a little bit each day, those with depression can help manage symptoms through movement. Even moving through small tasks each day like cleaning the house or gardening can be the first step.
This is because any type of exercise can help reduce inflammation in the body. Research shows that inflammation markers are in higher numbers in those with depression. Therefore, lifestyle changes that can reduce inflammation may help improve depression symptoms. Exercise helps promote increases in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant markers, which in turn can help improve depression symptoms.
Another way to reduce inflammation in the body is to make changes in the diet. You can do this by reducing the intake of certain foods that tend to promote inflammation. Then, after the elimination of such foods, you can add foods that contain high amounts of anti-inflammatory antioxidants.
Those foods that can help reduce inflammation in the body include:
- Fiber and antioxidant-rich vegetables like leafy green spinach, kale, or broccoli
- Omega-3 fatty acid-rich fatty fish like salmon, trout, mackerel, or sardines
- Antioxidant-rich fruits like strawberries, blueberries, or oranges
- Fiber-rich, plant-based healthy fats like nuts and seeds
- Plant-based oils like olive oil
On the flip side, you should try to limit or avoid foods that can increase inflammation like:
- Refined carbohydrates like white bread and pasta
- Sweetened candies, sodas, and baked goods
- Processed meats like deli meat, sausage, and hot dogs
- Unhealthy fats like shortening, margarine, and lard as well as foods cooked in such fats
Another way that healthy eating habits can help improve depression symptoms has to do with the brain-gut axis. The brain-gut axis theory suggests that eating processed foods that induce inflammation can alter the microbiome in the gut. In turn, this change in the gut environment can cause inflammation in the body that can impact the health of both body and mind. Therefore, by eating more anti-inflammatory foods, a person can improve such brain health issues.
Just as talk therapy can help a person deal with feeling better, so can exercise like meditation. Meditation is a way to help train your brain to achieve focus when negative thoughts try to dominate your thinking. It’s a mind-body practice that involves being in a comfortable posture, in a quiet place, with a focus of attention, and an open attitude.
Experts suggest that meditation helps relieve symptoms by impacting individual brain connections. For example, the medial prefrontal cortex becomes hyperactive in depressed people. This is the part of the brain where worry and anxiety can reside since it processes personal information. This part of the brain works alongside the amygdala, or fight-or-flight center, to create symptoms of depression. Meditation seems to break the connection between these two regions, in turn, relieving depressive symptoms.
The act of meditation often involves focusing ones’ attention on the breath or on certain words or sounds. By doing this, meditation can improve blood pressure and reduce digestive symptoms in those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). And when it comes to depression, a 2019 study looked at the impact of a meditation regimen on depression symptoms. Study results show that a once-weekly, eight-week meditation program reduced the severity of depression and anxiety symptoms in three-fourths of participants.
The best part about meditation is that it’s a treatment considered safe for just about everyone. Research shows there are no apparent negative effects of meditation. Also, you can perform meditation just about anywhere. Therefore, whenever symptoms may arise, specific meditation techniques like breathing exercises can help manage such symptoms.
Latest Treatment Options for Depression
As research continues, new and innovative treatment options for depression present themselves. One of the newest treatment options is an FDA-approved ketamine nasal spray. A study on this promising new treatment looked at esketamine and antidepressant treatment group versus placebo and antidepressant.
Study results show that the esketamine group had significant improvement in depression symptoms compared to placebo after 28 days. The fantastic part about this study was that some symptoms improved within 24 hours after the first dose.
The way ketamine works to help depressive symptoms is complicated. However, research suggests that one way it works is by increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This helps improve depression symptoms because BDNF is vital for learning, memory, and healthy cognition in brain health.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a plant-derived compound with promising potential to help those with depression. Research is still in its early stages, but this compound can produce the same calming effects as marijuana, but without impairing judgment. Early studies show though that CBD can help lessen anxiety without causing any known adverse effects.
The mechanism of CBD may stem from its positive interaction with the “feel good” hormone serotonin in the brain. If you are considering using CBD to help with anxiety or depression, be sure to talk with your healthcare provider first. This is because CBD may interact with certain medications or dietary supplements.
How Can I Find Help for My Depression?
The hardest part of depression can often be the act of finding help. It can not only be scary to do, but it can be overwhelming as well. That’s why such organizations like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) made a website to help. Their website includes a helpline as well as locators for treatment and services to help you better manage your depression.
Other helpful websites include the Mental Health America site. This site offers information on the Crisis Text Line as well as therapy locators. Finally, the National Network of Depression Centers (NNDC) provides a long list of links to hotlines and resource centers.
Final Thoughts About Depression
Depression is a severe health condition is very involved. This is because it involves symptoms of both the mind and body that can impact many areas of one’s life. It’s a complex mental health condition that needs a variety of ongoing treatments to manage it properly. And with the advent of new treatment options, there is hope for more effective treatment in the future.
If you or someone you know may be suffering from depression, please contact a qualified healthcare provider right away. Also, you can visit the SAMHSA website for information on their 24-hour helpline, which provides confidential access to information and resources regarding treatment.
Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian, freelance writer, health editor, and founder of LighttrackNutrition.com. She has been a dietitian since 2010, and has helped thousands of patients in arenas like weight management, fitness, long-term care, rehab, and bariatric nutrition. Staci has also been writing and editing since 2011 for such websites as CDiabetes, Anirva, and Casa de Sante, to name a few and has been a featured expert for websites like Shape.com, ThisisInsider.com, and Eat This Not That. Staci hopes to provide others accessible, accurate, and practical health and wellness information so they can make lasting healthy lifestyle changes.