Increasingly in the U.S. the spotlight is turning to mental health topics to build awareness and work towards comprehensive treatment approaches. Dealing with depression has been the target of numerous studies that look at solutions that are both preventative and action-oriented. Depression and chronic pain often go hand-in-hand, with each increasing the intensity of the other. For those with or without chronic pain, here are seven tips on dealing with depression.
1. Practice mindfulness when dealing with depression
Mindfulness is both a meditation tool and a cognitive behavior therapy that approaches depression differently. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) encourages patients to feel what they are feeling without judgment, just awareness and acceptance. Breathing techniques are also incorporated in this therapy. Patients also learn to replace negative thoughts with more constructive ones.
Turns out, MBCT is just as effective as maintenance-level antidepressants for combatting relapses but without side effects. A study from the University of Exeter found that MBCT provides an alternative for people who are unable to stick with a course of preventative medication.
Study co-author professor Sarah Byford from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, had this to say about MCBT’s effectiveness:
“As a group intervention, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy was relatively low cost compared to therapies provided on an individual basis and, in terms of the cost of all health and social care services used by participants during the study, we found no significant difference between the two treatments.”
2. Strengthen the mind-body connection
Adding to the findings about mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, a study out of Rutgers University found that a combination of exercise and meditation just twice a week reduced depressive symptoms in study participants by 40%.
Tracey Shors, professor in the department of psychology and Center for Collaborative Neuroscience, both in the school of arts and sciences, found that mental and physical training (MAP) helped students to cope with negative thoughts more effectively, noting:
“Scientists have known for a while that both of these activities alone can help with depression. But this study suggests that when done together, there is a striking improvement in depressive symptoms along with increases in synchronized brain activity.”
Study participants saw improvements in mood, functional behavior, and coping skills after two months of twice weekly sessions of 30 minutes of meditation followed by 30 minutes of aerobic exercise.
Another bonus to this method of dealing with depression is that it is cost-free and has no side effects whatsoever.
3. Gather support
One of the features of recurring depressive episodes is the feeling of isolation, of being all alone in the struggle to feel better. Because depressive episodes keep occurring, the depressed person may feel that treatment is not effective for them.
A new study from the Group Health Research Institute looked at ways to better support patients with recurring depression. They found that depression self-management training, recovery coaching, and care coordination helped patients report improvements on four major measurements of care.
Patients who received more support reported less severe symptoms and less likelihood of having major depression, higher recovery scores, and higher likelihood of being much improved over an 18-month period than patients with more traditional approaches of medication and talk therapy.
Study leader Evette J. Ludman, PhD, a senior research associate at Group Health Research Institute, pointed out that this treatment protocol offered hope and support that outperformed traditional methods of treatment, noting:
“What makes this program unique is that it combines a traditional mental health model aiming to reduce symptoms with a recovery model focused on achieving life goals despite symptoms…this intervention really seems effective at improving their lives, and the differences between the groups were continuing to diverge at 18 months.”
4. Find what works for you if you’re dealing with depression
When it comes to dealing with depression or other mental health issues, treatments need to be as unique as a fingerprint. That’s the conclusion reached by researchers at the Family Institute at Northwestern University. Study co-author Paula Young, PhD, staff therapist and head of cognitive behavioral therapy services at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, looked at what treatments were most effective for depression and found that there was no one-size-fits all approach.
Patients who received a combination of medication and cognitive behavior therapy (very similar to mindfulness behavior therapy) recovered at a far better rate than those patients who received medication alone (72.6% vs 62.5%, respectively). For severe and recurrent depressions, the results were even more pronounced (81% vs. 51%).
Tailoring treatment to each individual seems to be the key in dealing with depression.
5. Go for a walk
The simplest way to start dealing with depression may also sometimes be the most challenging. It can be hard to imagine going for a leisurely stroll when depressive symptoms are all-consuming, but research has shown that regular exercise, especially when done outside, can combat the major symptoms of depression.
6. Turn off screens
There is increasing evidence that excessive screen times may cause depression in young adults, particularly among young men. While the reasons for this are not yet completely understood, it may be that the glow of the laptop and smartphone affect the brain in ways that do not allow it to function properly in terms of cognition and rest.
Limiting screen time and turning all screens off at least two hours before bed can help the brain rest and reset during the night. People at risk for depression can also protect their brain by downloading a software like f.lux that changes screen lighting according to the time of day.
7. Stay engaged
It can be challenging to remain socially active during a depressive episode, but friends and social connections may be key to help preventing depression in the first place. An active, regular social life can help depressed people feel more involved in the world, combatting the dangerous sense of isolation that can snowball into a full-blown depressive episode.
Make the time for regular coffee or lunch dates with those you care about, or sign up for a class in something that interests you for a weekly dose of community.
The first step in dealing with depression is to recognize that there is a problem. Check out this article on diagnosing depression as the first step to getting the help you need.