When to Seek Treatment for Depression

Although you may not have all of the symptoms described on the What is Depression? page, you may still be diagnosed with depression. If you have several of the symptoms, it would be wise to seek treatment. Depression is one of the most treatable of all emotional problems. Most people (60%-85%) with depression show significant improvement after three months of psychotherapy without medication, and even more after six months. Antidepressant (medicine) treatment alone helps in about 60% of cases after three months. (Antidepressant treatment added to psychotherapy improves success rates by only 5%-10%, but it can lift the depression sooner.)

Depression is dangerous. Half of those who have one untreated episode of major depression will have a recurrence; 70% of those untreated who have had two episodes will have a recurrence; 90% of those who have had three untreated or more episodes will have a recurrence. Even one episode of depression results in changes in the brain's hippocampus-hypothalamus (responsible for memory, and our ability to regulate emotion and reduce anxiety in general, promote the immune system, and maintain circadian 'body' rhythm), and depression is a risk factor for a variety of illnesses, among them, hypertension, stroke, cancer, and heart disease.

What to Avoid Doing

If you've been diagnosed with depression, here are the WORST things you can do:

isolate yourself,

become a couch potato,

stay in the dark,

establish and maintain erratic sleep patterns,

drink alcohol and caffeine or use other drugs, including tranquilizers,

and engage in ruthless self-criticism!

Yet, people who are depressed and suffering from the physiological effects do precisely these things in an effort to cope. Why? One explanation comes from evolutionary psychology and the study of monkeys.

Don't Be A Monkey!

Those who study chimpanzees found that chimps respond to loss (the death of the mother) in a predictable way. First, they protest (make lots of noise, scream, do whatever is necessary to make sure that if the mother is alive, she will find them). If that doesn't work, after 12-24 hours, they conserve and withdraw. They isolate themselves, don't eat, and limit their movement. This typically lasts for about 3 days. Next, the chimps venture out in search of, and bond to, a new mother figure (chimps travel in groups in which one or more females act as supermothers to orphaned chimps). One in five chimps are unable to move out of the conserve and withdraw stage, and they typically will die as a result. Humans seem to do this, too. When we suffer depression, we may have an impulse to "hide in our cave," pull the curtains, cocoon, watch TV, withdraw from others. Evolutionary psychologists believe that, deep in our ancient, mammilian brain, we are hiding to protect ourselves from marauding and potentially violent others, much as the chimpanzees do. Unfortunately, this only makes things worse.

Things to do to support your therapy and help yourself recover from depression can be found on the Tips to Ease Depression page.

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