Procedures to treat depression

If medications and psychotherapy aren't working, you may want to talk to a psychiatrist about additional treatment options:

  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). While you are asleep, a carefully measured dose of electricity is passed through your brain, intentionally triggering a small, brief seizure. ECT seems to cause changes in brain chemistry that can relatively quickly reverse symptoms of major depression. Although there are potential side effects, such as temporary confusion or temporary memory loss, a series of ECT treatments may provide significant relief of severe depression.
  • Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). Generally only used when ECT isn't effective, rTMS uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain to improve symptoms of depression. An electromagnetic coil is placed against your scalp near your forehead. The electromagnet used in rTMS creates electric currents that stimulate nerve cells in the region of your brain involved in mood control and depression.
  • Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS). Generally, VNS is only tried after other brain stimulation therapies such as ECT and rTMS have not been successful in improving symptoms of depression. VNS stimulates the vagus nerve with electrical impulses. This treatment uses a device implanted in your chest that's connected by a wire to a nerve in your neck (vagus nerve). Electrical signals from the implant travel along the vagus nerve to the mood centers of the brain, which may improve depression symptoms.

Be sure to find out whether your insurance covers any treatment that's recommended.

Other steps you can take

To make the most of depression treatment:

  • Stick to your treatment plan. Don't skip therapy sessions or appointments. It'll take time to get better. Even if you feel well, don't skip your medications. If you stop, depression symptoms may come back, and you could experience withdrawal-like symptoms. If side effects or drug costs are a problem, talk with your doctor and pharmacist to discuss options.
  • Stop drinking or using recreational drugs. Many people with depression drink too much alcohol or use recreational drugs or marijuana. In the long run, alcohol and drugs worsen depression and make it harder to treat. If you can't stop drinking alcohol or using drugs on your own, talk to your doctor or mental health professional. Depression treatment may be unsuccessful until you address your substance use.
  • Manage stress. Relationship issues, financial problems, an unhappy work life and many other issues can all contribute to stress, which in turn worsens depression. Try stress-reduction techniques such as yoga, tai chi, meditation, mindfulness, progressive muscle relaxation or writing your thoughts in a journal.
  • Sleep well. Poor sleep may worsen depression. Both the amount of time and how well you sleep can affect your mood, energy level, ability to concentrate and resilience to stress. If you have trouble sleeping, research ways to improve your sleep habits or ask your doctor or mental health professional for advice.
  • Get regular exercise. Exercise has a direct effect on mood. Even physical activity such as gardening or walking can reduce stress, improve sleep and ease depression symptoms.

Don't settle for a treatment that's partially effective at relieving your depression or one that works but causes intolerable side effects. Work with your doctor or other mental health professional to find the best treatment possible, even though it may take time and effort to try new approaches.

July 21, 2017 See more In-depth