If you’ve had a major depressive episode, you know what it’s like to lose interest in daily life for more than a couple of weeks. During that time, you may have also had changes in your eating habits, sleeping patterns, or energy levels.
Hopefully, you sought help and received treatment. And if treatment was successful, there’s a good chance that a combination of antidepressant medication and therapy helped resolve the episode. But will you have another bout of depression?
More than likely, yes—but take heart. Continued treatment can help.
Most people with depression will have another episode sooner or later, says Scott Aaronson, MD, director of clinical research programs at Sheppard Pratt Health System and a Genomind Scientific Advisory Board member.
“For most people, depression is a recurrent illness that will likely need to be managed over a lifetime,” Dr. Aaronson says. “That’s why having a long-term treatment strategy is important.”
If you or a loved one struggles with depression, these steps can help you lay the foundation for a long-term plan.
Step #1: Stick to Antidepressant Medication as Recommended
For many people with depression, a long-term strategy will include antidepressants, and it may mean taking antidepressants even if you’re not currently experiencing a depressive episode. This is known as maintenance treatment.
New research supports a maintenance approach for people with chronic or recurrent depression. Continuing antidepressants as prescribed after a depressive episode was associated with a lower risk of depression recurrence, according to a study in JAMA Psychiatry. In the study, this was true whether patients achieved recovery with or without cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a type of talk therapy.
But which antidepressant will help manage your depressive episodes and at which dose? That’s where your clinician’s expertise is important. If your clinician prescribes medication, be sure to discuss:
- Any instructions you should follow
- Any potential side effects you should watch out for
- What to do if you experience side effects
Step #2: Ask About Pharmacogenetic Testing
Even skilled clinicians must often rely on trial and error to identify a medication regimen that treats depression effectively. Two out of three patients with depression do not achieve full relief with their first medication, according to a study in Depression and Anxiety. That’s because not everyone reacts to medications in the same way.
One reason for this is your genetic makeup. Your genes can affect your response to certain medications, including whether you might experience negative side effects or harmful drug interactions.
This is where pharmacogenetic (PGx) testing can help. “Once a patient has failed two courses of medication, testing merits thoughtful consideration,” Dr. Aaronson says. “I tell my patients that testing is worthwhile because the results may offer better insights as to what steps should be taken next.”
Genomind’s PGx test is the most advanced and comprehensive mental health PGx test available. The test, which requires a prescription, can look at your genetic makeup to help your clinician determine:
- Which medications may be more effective
- Which medications may have side effects
- How you metabolize medications for personalized dosing guidance
Step #3: Prioritize Self-Care
Got your clinician’s instructions for medication, therapy, or both? That’s a great start. Round it out by taking good care of yourself with healthy habits.
“Both therapy and medication are helpful in managing depression,” Dr. Aaronson says. “But self-care strategies like eating well and getting enough exercise are probably just as important.”
It’s OK to start small. “I encourage my patients to realize that managing depression revolves around making lots of small improvements,” Dr. Aaronson says.
For example, start by walking or stretching for 10 to 15 minutes a day. As you make that a habit and get stronger, work up to 30 minutes. Miss a day or two? That’s also OK. Pick it up at your next opportunity.
“Fortunately, even small efforts can combine to make life better,” Dr. Aaronson says. “It may seem like you’re suddenly 50 or 75 percent better, but it’s because you’ve been doing lots of things right over a long period of time.”
Here are a few self-care habits Dr. Aaronson recommends:
- Establishing a sleep routine that promotes quality rest
- Eating a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein
- Exercising for at least 30 minutes per day on most days of the week
- Exploring meditation and mindfulness to calm the mind
- Avoiding alcohol, cannabis, and other recreational drugs
- Limiting situations that are likely to trigger feelings of loss of control
- Working with your clinician to develop treatment strategies
Does Your Medication Work for You?
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