Mental health isn’t easy. If it were, no one would ever have any problems with it. Each case of depression is complex and specific to the person who experiences it, so the only way to know for sure what will work is to try each treatment option for yourself. However, science does say that certain things tend to work more often than others.
Lots of literature shows that there’s an overlap between our minds and our bodies. We often experience the physical processes in our brains as subjective feelings, and it would seem there isn’t really any part of your brain which is definitively “just your brain” or “just your mind”. Rather, each area is a little bit of both.
And while there doesn’t appear to be any one cause, the physical side of what we do know suggests that it has to do with a shortage of certain chemical messengers in the brain called neurotransmitters. These include serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
Besides all the normal health benefits, exercise has been shown to increase serotonin levels and to stimulate neurogenesis – that is, the production of new brain cells – in the hippocampus, an area which has been shown to undergo atrophy in those who experience depression.
The basic idea behind cognitive therapy is that it isn’t the events in your life which make you feel good or bad, but rather the stories you tell yourself about those events. How you interpret external events can make any situation into either a positive or a negative experience in your mind, thus affecting your mood.
Cognitive therapy aims to identify your core beliefs and the triggers which cause you to “activate” your unhealthy thought processes. By examining your underlying assumptions and considering other possible explanations for the things that provoke negative emotions in you, you can restructure your thought processes and arrive at healthier interpretations and an increased mood as a result.
Cognitive therapy is commonly paired with behavioral therapy, which takes a more outward-in approach compared to cognitive therapy’s inward-out approach. The two are often referred to together as a singular thing, called CBT.
For certain types of treatment-resistant depression, ketamine has been shown to be effective. Unlike antidepressants, ketamine is relatively fast-acting. Many people get dissuaded from prescription antidepressants because it can take several weeks spent dealing with side effects before any benefits are seen, and sometimes no benefits are seen. As with every treatment for depression, ketamine doesn’t always work either, but when it does, it does so within a matter of hours instead of weeks.
Rest, Reflection, and Reminiscence
Sleep has a restorative effect on the body, but it should be noted that sleeping either too much or too little is sometimes a symptom of depression and sometimes causes it. Therefore, sleeping more may not always help or even be physically possible without some other form of treatment. But, if you’re not getting enough sleep when you otherwise could be, you’re certainly not doing yourself any favors.
Meditation has also been shown to have a profound effect on several parts of the brain involved in the physical mechanisms of depression. People participating in research on meditation and depression have reported increases in both their mood and the quality of their sleep.
For older individuals, reminiscing on positive life experiences and reflecting on what they’re grateful for has had a positive effect, particularly in those who are in assisted living facilities. It’s thought that this effect comes from reaffirming their sense of identity.
No matter what method you try, it’s important to understand that there is hope. Don’t let yourself think, “nothing works”. Instead, tell yourself, “nothing has worked yet“. Every battle with depression is a personal one, but there is an option that will work for you. You just have to find it.