Many of you, like me, follow a number of news sources throughout the day. Whether radio, television, e-news sites, or newspapers, there are a myriad of ways that people can easily access information 24/7. This proliferation of information is wonderful – but it can be overwhelming and in some cases – especially around mental health issues – inaccurate or simply untrue.
Most recently, I have been struck by recent interviews with people who are not mental health professionals who discuss depression without having a professional background in the field. These authors, coaches, and others are provided a very public platform to discuss depression treatment and what “works” and what doesn’t – and while a lot of it “sounds” convincing and factual – in many cases it’s not – and this can be very dangerous.
As a practicing psychiatrist for many years, I can attest to the fact that depression treatments DO work and that those who suffer with depression need to be informed about what to expect while undergoing treatment. There is much evidence-based research to show that medication and therapy are a powerful and effective way to treat depression. In fact, depression treatment is often a combination treatment, not unlike treatment for hypertension or migraine. It’s important to know that while medication alone and psychotherapy (cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy) alone can relieve depressive symptoms, that it is a combination of medication and psychotherapy that has been associated with significantly higher rates of improvement in more severe, chronic, and complex presentations of depression.
It’s critical for someone struggling with depression to be informed about treatment options and to have a doctor or therapist who clearly discusses what kind of medications are available, how to manage lack of efficacy or side effects and how to work with the patient to ensure that medications are effective. So many people have told me that medication saved their lives; almost all wish they had tried them sooner. And the vast majority tolerate them very well. Also important is to understand what psychotherapies are, how they differ in terms of their evidence base and how important it is to try therapy and find one that works best for you, rather than staying in therapy for years without symptom relief. Therapy is often not easy, and takes a lot of effort and commitment. But it DOES work and I’ve seen many people find relief from their depression and thrive. A doctor who is available and responsive is an absolute must, and frequent follow up visits to make sure the treatment plan is sound and working (and to modify the plan if needed) is also key.
We still as a society bear shame when talking about mental illness. It is difficult and sometimes impossible for people to seek the help they need. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in our young adult population. Remember – being informed about treatment options is the key to finding the right treatment for you or a loved one. You can learn about medication and therapy options by visiting the ADAA website. ADAA also offers a wide variety of blog posts and webinars that you can search by topic – all written/hosted by our professional mental health member experts.
Depression treatments do work and can significantly improve quality of life. This month is Mental Health Awareness and a wonderful time to pledge to educate ourselves about treatment options. Let’s pledge to ask questions, learn and stay informed about current research and treatment. Doing so will help #breakthestigmaaround mental health issues and ensure that people find the treatment they need today and continue to work as a society to get better treatments to the forefront tomorrow.