Life can be stressful. Major events like getting fired, going through a divorce, or losing a parent can trigger intense feelings of grief, loneliness, and fear.
It's normal to feel sad, anxious, or lonely sometimes, especially in relation to a specific event. However, those diagnosed with depression tend to have a more severe kind of experience, and for far longer.
Major depression, also known as clinical depression, Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), and major affective disorder, is a serious psychiatric disorder. It is far more than just "feeling down." In fact, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for those aged 15 to 44. It impacts over 16 million American adults.
How do you know you need treatment for depression?
There’s a lot more to clinical depression than just sadness. In fact, some people with depression may not feel sad at all -- there are a lot of other symptoms. If you’ve been experiencing symptoms like these for at least two weeks, you may need treatment for depression:
- Excessive guilt or self-hate
- Persistent sadness, anxiety, or feeling “empty”
- Constantly feeling tired or “slowed down”
- Finding it hard to concentrate, make decisions, or remember things
- No longer being interested in hobbies or activities that used to bring you joy
- Having trouble sleeping (insomnia or oversleeping)
- Gaining or losing weight
- Thinking about suicide or making suicide attempts
- Feeling restless or irritable
What is a depression treatment center?
When you have depression, you can’t function normally. You’re in pain, and often those around you are in pain, as well. It’s easy for both you and loved ones to feel hopeless, like nothing works and there’s nothing they can do. In fact, others may get angry or withdraw from the depressed person out of frustration or a sense of powerlessness.
Depression treatment facilities can help because their programs are specifically designed to treat those with clinical depression in a supportive environment. Depression centers are experienced in the various therapies that can help treat depression, including antidepressant medications, talk therapy (psychotherapy), and lifestyle changes like stress reduction, exercise, and nutrition changes.
Why go to a treatment center that treats depression specifically?
As stated, depression is a real illness. It’s not weakness or a character flaw, and you can’t just “snap out” of it. Because depression impacts your decision-making abilities and can leave you feeling discouraged, unmotivated, or empty, it’s critical to have assistance when it comes to treatment.
One of the advantages of attending a depression treatment center is to be around other people who understand what you’re going through better than those in your daily life. One of the challenges with depression is how to handle personal relationships, since a lot of friends and family simply don’t understand.
Similarly, therapists at depression treatment programs have a lot of experience dealing with the exact issues facing those with depression, including feelings of worthlessness, confusion, or emptiness. The health professionals at depression treatment centers know how to address and support individuals overcoming depression, both in both group and one-on-one therapy settings.
In addition to emotional support, depression treatment centers are skilled at putting together treatment plans for those with depression. This can include talk therapy like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which has been shown to be an effective modality to treat depression. It also usually includes medically-assisted therapy (the use of antidepressants).
CBT is based on the concept that your mood is directly related to how you think. In CBT, the therapist and patient explore the patient’s negative thoughts and triggers together. As a team, they then come up with ways of changing (or rewiring) thought patterns. The focus is on the present, rather than why a person thinks the way s/he does. In other words, it’s a solution-focused therapy, not one that explores the past in depth.
In addition to talk therapy like CBT, programs that focus on depression frequently offer medically-assisted treatment, meaning using antidepressant medication to treat the depression.
The concept behind antidepressants is to bring any imbalanced chemicals in your brain back into balance. This can help relieve symptoms and make doing therapy easier, since you’re more available to concentrate on it. Common antidepressants include Prozac, Effexor XR, Lexapro, Limbitrol, Paxil, Symbyax and Zoloft.
It’s important to give antidepressant medications time to work. Certain antidepressants can take up to a month or more to take full effect, and it’s critical to take them as instructed in order to evaluate whether they’re working. It’s also normal to need to try a few different medications at first, since different antidepressants affect people in different ways. Part of the utility of having medical support is to adjust medication and dosage to get it right.
What else does a depression-specific program offer?
CBT and antidepressants aren’t the only ways to treat depression. There are a lot of other therapeutic modalities that can be effective, including:
- Group therapy, where you hear others’ stories and share your own, thereby creating bonding and connection that can help immensely in recovery
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), formerly known as electroshock therapy. ECT employs electrically-induced seizures for therapeutic effect. It is sometimes used for those with severe depression (especially suicidal thoughts)
- Light therapy, which has shown to be particularly effective for Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) -- depression that flares up during the winter months
- Lifestyle changes, which include exercise (this alone can make a substantial impact on depression), getting enough sleep, and dietary changes
- Art therapy, which helps patients express themselves in non-verbal ways, which has been shown to be even more effective than talk therapy for some people
Many depression treatment centers will offer a combination of such therapies, with the focus being on what works for each individual participant.
What happens during treatment?
If you attend an inpatient depression treatment center, you stay at the facility for the whole program (often 30, 60, or 90 days). First you’re evaluated medically, and if you have co-occurring substance abuse, you go through a detox process to get the substance out of your body.
At that point, you begin the rest of the therapeutic process, which usually includes both individual as well as group therapy. If relevant, you meet with psychiatrists to begin antidepressant medications (and adjust the dosage if that is needed).
Again, attending a treatment program with others who understand what you’re going through and have led others down the same path to recovery helps tremendously. In addition to quality therapy, you can create lasting connections with others facing the same challenges, and come to a greater sense of self-realization that is the foundation of a sustainable recovery.