Is Depression Curable?

November 11, 2020

When an illness is cured, it means that the illness is gone forever and won’t come back or affect that person’s life again. There are some diseases we can’t cure, such as diabetes. 

However, even diseases that can’t be cured can be treated. 

Generally, depression is thought of as a disease that can be treated, not cured, although there are some exceptions to this rule. 

The Difference Between Treating and Curing

Treatments for all kinds of conditions have improved dramatically as the scientific community has learned more about what works effectively. In general, depression is considered a condition not too far from diabetes in terms of care: while it can’t be cured, it can be managed to the degree that it does not have substantial effects on a person’s quality of life.

Some people can recover from depression and get off the medication they used to manage their condition. Other individuals will always need medication, but can live long, healthy lives with the right medication management. 

Finding out that you or a loved one has been diagnosed with depression can be daunting, but most people diagnosed with any type of depression go on to live long and healthy lives with the condition well under control. 

How to Treat Depression

There are a number of different treatments for depression, but proper treatment always depends on getting the correct diagnosis. Before you start looking for treatment for your depression, you must first understand what kind of depression you have and whether there are any underlying causes.

Diagnosing Depression 

Depression is a complex illness with a number of relevant factors required for diagnosis. 

Diagnosis generally requires a coordinated effort between your primary care physician and a mental health care professional.

Physical Exam  

Your primary care doctor should perform a standard physical exam and ask you a number of questions about your overall health. Your depression could be linked to an underlying medical condition, such as a thyroid condition or consistently low iron.

If your physician finds an underlying physical cause responsible for your depression, treating the depression may be as simple as curing the underlying cause. In some cases, iron supplementation or treatment for the underlying condition can actually be a “cure” for the depression. Attempting to treat depression when there is an underlying condition is unlikely to result in success, so ruling out an underlying physical medical condition is the first step to treating your depression. 

Criteria for Depression

Once physical causes for your symptoms have been ruled out, it is time to consider the criteria for depression established by the American Psychiatric Association. If you experience several of these symptoms for more than 2 weeks, a diagnosis of depression may be given:

  • Feelings of sadness and a generally depressed mood
  • Disinterest and failure to experience pleasure in activities that you once enjoyed
  • Non-deliberate changes in appetite that cause weight loss or gain
  • Difficulty sleeping or frequently oversleeping
  • Fatigue or an inability to feel energetic most of the time
  • Purposeless activities like hand-wringing or pacing or slower speech and movement as observed by others
  • A persistent feeling of worthlessness or guilt unrelated to practical causes for the feeling
  • Experiencing a hard time making decisions or concentrating
  • Thinking about death or suicide 

If you experienced these symptoms but they don’t last more than two weeks, or if there is a very clear explanation for your feelings like a traumatic event, you may not be experiencing depression. All of us go through periods of sadness and grief in our lives, but it’s continuing feelings like this that are a sign that something else might be wrong. 

Such feelings are especially likely when we experience something like the loss of a job, or an otherwise negative life event. As we get older, we may be likely to experience sadness and stress as a result of life changes. 

However, there are some key differences between the normal experience of grief and bereavement and experiences of depression:

  • When you are experiencing grief, the pain tends to come in waves, often alternating with normal pleasurable experiences or happy memories of the person who has passed away. By contrast, when you are experiencing depression, happiness is more or less completely suspended for more than two weeks.
  • People who are experiencing grief usually do not have any corresponding experience of reduced self-esteem or worthlessness. You may feel anxious or scared because a person that you loved or depended on is gone from your life. However, you should not feel that your worth is decreased or a sense of guilt.

If a traumatic event or death has brought on the kind of persistent reduced mood and inability to experience happiness that is associated with depression, it is important to recognize this difference and seek out help. Many people experience depression for the first time in response to a negative event in their lives. 

If you fail to seek out help, you may be tempted to believe that this new negative take on the world is your new reality. Consequently, you may find that the symptoms persist for much longer and become an integral part of your life experience. It is much better to seek out help as soon as you suspect that what you’re experiencing is beyond typical experiences of grief. 

How to Treat Depression 

Treatment for your depression should only be undergone with the help of a mental health care professional. While your friends and family may mean the best and can be a very important part of your healing process, only a trained professional will be able to recognize and respond to important changes in your symptoms to help you have a successful plan of action. 

These are a few of the things that your mental health care professional may suggest to help you manage your depression:

Medication 

For many depressed individuals, even extensive talk therapy or other solutions won’t effectively help because their brain chemistry is substantially altered. There are a number of different ways that brain chemistry can change to result in feelings of depression. 

Sometimes it is a result of changes in the amygdala. Other times, trauma or genetics may cause changes in brain chemistry that predispose you to depression. Whatever the reason, depression medications are designed to equalize your brain chemistry and improve your mood. 

Without help, depression can go on indefinitely, developing into chronic depression, which comes with increased impairment of your daily life activities and puts you at risk of other mental health conditions. 

It is important to understand that antidepressants are not “uppers,” and are not designed to improve your mood instantaneously. Rather, they take time to slowly adjust the chemicals in your brain until they’re more appropriately balanced. 

There are a number of types of antidepressants, each that work slightly differently and have different side effects. It can be sometimes challenging to determine which medication will be most effective for you, so it is very important that you are patient and give each medication time to work. 

Antidepressants usually take at least a few weeks before symptoms begin to reduce. When symptoms do reduce, it is usually physical symptoms like appetite and sleep that change first. Too often, individuals who are looking for a cure for their depression are frustrated by how long it takes to work. 

They may not realize that the slight reduction in physical symptoms is the first sign of effective medication treatment. Therefore, many doctors recommend waiting more than a month to be absolutely confident that a medication is not working before another medication is tried or the dose is adjusted. 

It is absolutely essential that you work closely with your mental health professional to adjust dosages and that you never change dosages on your own. Antidepressants require very careful weaning off to be discontinued safely. 

This should only be done under the supervision of a mental health care professional, and only when they are confident that it is time to wean you off or try something different.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy can be very effective for people who are experiencing depression. Usually it is used in conjunction with medication. Talk therapy is helpful for several different reasons.

  • It appears to have high therapeutic value by itself and can be used alone in the treatment of very mild depression. 
  • Psychotherapy enables your mind to do a better job of responding logically to your experiences of depression, which may help to reduce feelings of worthlessness or helplessness. 
  • Maintaining regular psychotherapy with a mental health professional who knows you well and understands you is a very good way to make sure that your care is being followed up on regularly.

Get Started Treating Your Depression 

Some types of depression can be cured if they come from an underlying condition which your doctor can treat. However, most types of depression will need to be managed but will never really be entirely cured.

It can be hard to realize that you are struggling with a disease that will likely be a part of your life for the long-term, but when you consider how effective antidepressant medication and psychotherapy can be in the treatment of depression, you’ll quickly realize that this doesn’t have to be something that negatively affects your life forever. 

If you’re ready to get started but don’t know where to actually start, consider YANA. 

YANA is an online mental health clinic designed to make it fast, easy, and affordable to get matched with an expert mental health professional so you can get the treatment you need to find a happier, healthier you. Explore YANA’s FAQ to get the answers to the questions you’ve been thinking about, and see how easy it is to take the first step toward mental wellness. 

Sources:

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20356013

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/older-adults-and-depression/index.shtml

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/clinical-depression/treatment/

https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/managing-chronic-depression