Sunday, July 31, 2016

"I'm depressed. Should I pop a pill, go for therapy, or both?"

Brain photo

This is a very good question, and there is no quick and easy answer.

There are about 20 different antidepressants on the market and dozens of different types of therapy. Choosing what works for you, can therefore be a challenge.
When you are depressed, there are two broad approaches to getting help.
First, there's going to see a medical doctor and taking antidepressants. These typically take a couple of weeks to a couple of months to kick in.
If the first prescription doesn't work, or isn't working well enough, you go back and your doctor will adjust the dosage, prescribe a different pill, add in an extra pill or suggest you keep taking the pill but also go for some therapy.
Generally speaking, about half the people who take this route are happy with the results.
Some have to go back again, and need to explore more treatment options. In general, about 70% of people find that this approach eventually works for them.
The results of a recent British study that involved 3,671 people trying this approach is described here and the journal article is here.
Therapists are typically not doctors and in most places cannot prescribe drugs. They help manage depression with the help of talk therapy. Again, there are lots of different approaches, all with their pros and cons.
Generally speaking, studies that compare this approach to antidepressants find they are roughly equally effective. You can read a good journal article reporting on this here and you should take a look at the special issues facing researchers trying to figure this issue out by reading this paper here.
It can be hard to talk about treatment approaches, because many people become very evangelical about their favourite methods. Extremes run from "feel better through chemicals" to "drug companies are evil".
To further confuse everyone, not all studies are published. We all have biases, and unfortunately, there are people who have buried studies that show the failings of antidepressants as well as people who have buried studies that show the failings of talk therapy.
Me, I think that it's best to be sensible and to understand that at the moment, we don't have enough information. We are lucky in that we have some approaches that work for many people, but we have to recognise that what works for one person, may not work for another.

  • Some people find therapy works for them.
  • Some people take an antidepressant and they feel good again.
  • Some people have to try out different drugs in order to find one that works for them.
  • Some people find they need a mix of antidepressants and therapy.
I think it's important to explore all your options, and to figure out what works best for you. Ideally, you'll talk to a doctor and a therapist, do some reading and then make an informed decision.
Unfortunately, this can be difficult if you are depressed. When you're already feeling bad, and the first thing you try doesn't work, it's very tempting to say to yourself, "Nothing will work for me!" and to give up.
While there are people who have a very tough time finding help, I'd say you have to remind yourself that there's no reason why you should be in that number. It may take a while but please don't give up and think you can't be helped!
Read peer reviewed journals and when something won't work for you, talk to your family doctor to ask what else she recommends.
Photo credit: Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay