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July 21, 2020

Ask the expert: Questions about dealing with depression

Jed Magen, associate professor and chair in the Department of Psychiatry, answers questions about dealing with depression.

1. If you think you're depressed, what kind of doctor or mental health professional should you reach out to? Will they be able to get you the right therapy or medication? 

A family physician is reasonably capable of treating the average depressed person with medications, usually selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or selective serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. For more complex depressions or those that reoccur, a psychiatrist is an expert in treating these kinds of disorders and can also help you find a therapist. Psychologists and social workers often do therapy for depression. It is useful to ask what kind of therapy these people provide as the ones noted above have the best evidence base for treatment of depression.

2. What should you make sure to do in order to stay healthy while feeling depressed? What are some helpful reminders you can set up for yourself — or routines you should practice — to take care of your health?

A daily schedule is a great thing. Exercise is wonderful, and that can be as simple as taking a walk. You may well need someone to help you be motivated to do things like this. Another very simple activity is mindfulness. Sit quietly and let your thoughts wander. Relax your body. This is a great stress reliever. There are many apps and online programs to help people with mindfulness. Lastly, if you take medications, take them regularly and attend therapy if you do so.

3.  Why is social connection important for dealing with depression? How might this feel difficult for someone with depression?

Magen: Humans are social animals. We know that people who have social networks are happier, healthier and do better when stressed. So, having friends, going to social gatherings and having family who can do things with us is a part of being healthy. People who are depressed often have poor motivation and are isolative, both of which just reinforce being sad, not enjoying life and feeling like one cannot contribute meaningfully to life.

4.  What are some tips for how to maintain social connection and find support while depressed?

First, it is very important to find people who can help you stay connected, whether these are family members, a therapist or even online connections, perhaps with family or others. Secondly, a daily schedule gives you some structure that can be motivating. Third, if you do not have help yet, you can access help through various hotlines, through the local community mental health center or through organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Fourth, even getting outside in the sun and fresh air can be an opportunity to decompress and be where other people are.

5. How can exercise and sunlight — both on their own and together — help you deal with depression? What has research found about physical activity and Vitamin D for improving mood?

Physical activity is an antidepressant if one can motivate oneself to do it. Any exercise is good. Walking has multiple benefits and more intense exercise is probably better. Vitamin D, on the other hand, has never been shown convincingly to improve depressive symptoms, even when someone has a low vitamin D level.

6. How often should you get outside each day? How often should you exercise each week? What type of exercise is best for depression?

Exercise is always good no matter how little one does. Once a day would be great. Take a walk around your neighborhood. Now, with COVID lockdowns, we have examples of people walking around their yard or even balcony and putting on significant miles.



By: Kim Ward

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