Professional Opinion: How can we alleviate depression symptoms while waiting for treatment to kick in?

February 10, 2014 

Dr. Ravi Srivastava


This week Dr. Ravi Srivastava, a psychiatrist on Hilton Head Island, provides tips for managing and alleviating depression.

Question. When dealing with depression, medication and therapy take time to work. What are some ways to help alleviate symptoms of depression in the meantime?

Answer. Depression is a medical illness. It is not something that one snaps out off. I usually see patients after they have suffered and struggled for many months and tried their best to cope without success.

The core symptoms of depression are best treated by medications, however, the medications sometimes take about six to eight weeks to work adequately.

It is very difficult for someone to wait this long. The depressed person is already feeling hopeless, helpless and struggling in taking care of his/her functioning at work and home. The lack of immediate response feels like a failure.

In addition, the medications are not great in addressing a lot of the behavioral symptoms and psychological complications of depression. This is why the psychosocial aspect of treatment is an integral part of its treatment.

It starts with education about the nature of the illness, its symptoms and its course and outcome. This alleviates the anxiety of the patient as it is easier to deal with something when we have a road map of its course.

Here are some tips to help you navigate through the first few difficult weeks:

  • You will feel helpless, hopeless and have no energy. It will be extremely difficult to take any action to help yourself but it is important to realize that these feelings are part of the depression and do not reflect actual circumstances. As you recognize your depression and begin treatment, negative thinking will fade.

  • Engage in mild activity or exercise. Go to a movie, a show, or another event or activity that you once enjoyed. Participate in religious, social or other activities. Go through the motions of doing them even if you find it arduous and joyless. It is similar to doing physical therapy of moving your limbs after a stroke or surgery. It is hard but very useful in getting your full functions back.

  • Set realistic goals for yourself. You are not going to do things as well as you used to when you were well. Break up large tasks into small ones, set some priorities and do what you can as you can.

  • Try to spend time with other people and confide in a trusted friend or relative. Try not to isolate yourself, and let others help you.

  • Expect your mood to improve gradually. It is not going to be like a switch that flips from off to on. Often during treatment for depression, sleep and appetite will begin to improve before your depressed mood lifts.

  • Postpone important decisions, such as getting married or divorced or changing jobs, until you feel better. Discuss decisions with others who know you well and have a more objective view of your situation.

  • Be confident that positive thinking will replace negative thoughts as your depression responds to treatment.

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