Major depressive disorder (MDD) is also known as clinical depression. It affects 6.7% of adults in the U.S. The Mayo Clinic defines depression as a mood disorder that makes you feel persistently sad with a loss of interest. You might have MDD if you feel depressed most of the time, on most days. Other signs and symptoms are:
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Difficulty making decisions or concentrating
- Thoughts of suicide
- Weight loss or gain
The exact cause of depression is unknown, but differences in brain chemistry and family history could play a role. Depression can happen to someone at any age and in any stage of life. Even the happiest, most successful people can become clinically depressed.
If left untreated, MDD can be disabling. It causes problems at work, in your relationships, and it can even give you trouble physically.
Fortunately, there are many evidence-based and accessible methods of depression treatment. Everyone’s experience with MDD is different, so the treatment that works for someone else might not work for you.
You may need to try more than one major depressive disorder treatment before you find the one that’s right for you.
Below are a few of the most popular and proven methods of treating clinical depression.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a form of talk therapy. You’ll meet with a trained and licensed counselor who helps you become aware of the unhealthy ways you react to situations and events.
He or she will then guide you through changing these feelings by changing your thoughts. For example, you may be sensitive to how others perceive your performance at work or school, or as a parent, etc. and believe others judge you harshly. Through CBT, you will look closely at why you make the assumptions you do and learn to view things more open-mindedly.
A big focus in CBT is placed on coping skills. You may be asked to record your unhealthy thoughts in a thought journal. You might also learn relaxation skills, such as deep breathing and meditation. You’ll identify goals at the beginning of therapy and likely plan out a certain number of sessions.
Because it’s talk therapy, CBT poses very few risks and side effects. You should know that you may have to confront memories and feelings that are painful, so you can learn to cope with them. A skilled therapist should be able to make this process as comfortable as possible.
Antidepressants can be grouped into several major categories, including:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- Tricyclic antidepressants
These types each function differently, but antidepressants generally work by affecting the neurotransmitters in your brain that are in charge of mood. They can provide relief from your clinical depression symptoms by changing the balance of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine in your brain.
If your doctor prescribes antidepressant medication for your MDD, he or she will take into account:
- Your depression symptoms
- Other medications you take and other health factors
- Possible side effects of the drug
All medications for depression come with side effects, and they vary by type. They include:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Sexual dysfunction
- Weight gain and increased appetite
Clinical trials have shown that the more severe the depression symptoms, the more effective antidepressants are. SSRIs, SNRIs, and tricyclics have all been shown to work well against moderate to severe clinical depression.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive procedure that uses electromagnetic fields to stimulate underactive areas of the brain in people with clinical depression. It’s been found especially effective for people who haven’t had luck with other treatment methods, such as antidepressants.
During a TMS session, an electromagnetic coil is placed gently against your head. Over 18 to 19 minutes, it delivers pulses that stimulate the regions of your brain that handle mood.
TMS is a revolutionary form of major depressive disorder treatment because it’s drug-free and non-invasive, and its results are long-term. Other benefits include:
- Fewer side effects than antidepressant medications
- Brief and comfortable sessions – Each lasts 18 to 19 minutes, and you’re free to watch TV or listen to music while you receive the treatment.
- No downtime after sessions, so you can resume normal activities immediately.
TMS has been shown to provide long-term benefits to those suffering from clinical depression. In one study, 68% of participants who were followed for one year after receiving TMS for depression maintained the benefits of treatment.
The therapy has few side effects, with the most common being a slight clicking noise during treatment and mild discomfort at or near the treatment site. In clinical trials, fewer than 5% of patients stopped the treatment due to negative side effects.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is another brain stimulation treatment. Unlike TMS, ECT is done under general anesthesia. Short electric pulses are passed through the brain, intentionally causing brief seizures. It works by changing brain chemistry, which can reverse symptoms of many mental health issues.
ECT is typically reserved for MDD sufferers who haven’t found success with other forms of treatment. It treats severe and persistent depression, especially when you also experience psychosis, suicidal ideations, or refusal to eat.
ECT is far safer than it was in its early days, but still comes with risks and side effects to consider:
- Memory loss
- Medical complications related to anesthesia
This treatment has been proven very effective in clinical trials. In one study, 53.3% of severely depressed, treatment-resistant patients receiving ECT achieved remission. These patients had failed to respond to an average of 5.4 different treatments before trying ECT.
There are several changes you can make in your daily routine proven to decrease depression. For example, exercising can be just as effective for some people at treating depression as medication.
You don’t need to be a fitness enthusiast! Half an hour of aerobic walking each day is enough to boost serotonin and other feel-good brain chemicals. Eating well and getting enough (but not too much) sleep also helps boost and regulate your mood.
There are many factors that make your MDD unique, including:
- Frequency of depressive episodes
These play a role in which major depressive disorder treatment is right for you.
To start your journey to recovery, schedule a visit with your doctor. He or she will be able to comprehensively assess your depression and speak with you about your diagnosis and depression treatment options. Soon you’ll be on your way to discovering a treatment method that relieves your symptoms of depression.