Fact sheet 4
Treatments for depression and anxiety
Feeling depressed or anxious from time to time is part of being human. But when these feelings seriously affect your day-to-day life, it can mean you have depression or an anxiety disorder. The good news is that effective treatments are available. It’s important to get help as soon as possible - the earlier that treatment starts, the better for your recovery. You have a big role to play in your treatment, by working with your health professionals, looking after yourself, and continuing to talk with family or friends.
The first step in dealing with depression or anxiety is talking to someone about it. Some people think that it’s weak to admit that they’re going through a tough time. Others think it’s a normal part of growing up. But if you have depression or an anxiety disorder, you can’t just ’snap out of it’ or ‘pull yourself together’. Keeping it to yourself only makes things worse. Start by talking to someone you trust – maybe a parent, teacher, school counsellor, family member or friend. They can help you decide what to do next.
Seeing a General Practitioner (GP) is a good way to start. GPs are used to recognising and treating common problems, including depression, anxiety and alcohol and drug concerns. They can help you to work out the best ways to cope with how you’re feeling and make a plan to get through it. If needed, they can also refer you to someone who is an expert in treating mental health problems, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.
If you have particular concerns that you want to talk through, there are counsellors who specialise in different issues - like family problems, school, careers, alcohol and other drugs, pregnancy and abuse.
If you’re uncomfortable with the first person you talk to, it’s okay to try someone else. The main thing is that you trust the person and can talk to them, so they have the information they need to work out what’s going on and what might be the best way forward.
If you need to talk to someone right away or don’t feel ready to see a counsellor or doctor, you could try telephone counselling services, or online counselling (some numbers and websites are listed at the end of this fact sheet).
If you’re hurting yourself or feel like you want to do so, or if you need urgent medical or psychological help, you need to get in touch with your doctor or a health professional (such as a counsellor, psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health expert) as soon as you can.
See Youthbeyondblue Fact sheet 3 - Getting help for depression or anxiety for more information about getting help.
Knowing when treatment is needed
Everyone feels down or worried sometimes. It can be hard to recognise if you have depression or anxiety, let alone whether you might need help to get better. It’s a good idea to talk to someone if for MORE THAN TWO WEEKS you have:
- felt sad, down or miserable, or irritable most of the time
- had thoughts that you want to die or end your life
- lost interest or enjoyment in your usual activities
- felt anxious, tense or nervous most of the time
- felt fearful or worried all the time
- been experiencing frequent panic attacks (or been constantly worried that you will have one).
Other symptoms of depression and anxiety include:
- not doing so well at work or study
- changes in your relationships with family and friends
- feeling irritable or angry
- having trouble falling or staying asleep
- feeling restless, worked up or on edge
- being forgetful, losing concentration and being easily distracted
- becoming withdrawn and losing friends
- feeling unwell, with unexplained aches and pains
- avoiding activities or places for fear of causing a panic attack.
What kinds of treatments are available?
Psychological therapies (also called talking therapies) are the main treatments for depression and anxiety in young people.
Two psychological therapies have been found to be especially helpful – Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Interpersonal Therapy (IPT). These therapies can help you to change your negative thoughts and feelings, get involved in activities again and stop your depression or anxiety from coming back later in life.
For some people, the doctor may think that an antidepressant is also necessary, but only if the depression is severe or it isn’t improving with other treatments. If you do start taking an antidepressant, your doctor will monitor you closely for a while. You should also continue with talking therapies and self-help (see Youthbeyondblue Fact sheet 5- Antidepressants for the treatment of depression in adolescents and young adults).
There are also alternative treatments, such as St John’s wort. A few of these have been found to help in adults– especially when their depression isn’t severe and they’re not in danger of harming themselves. However, it’s important to realise that there’s been no good research done on the effectiveness of these treatments for young people and that a lot of them have side-effects and may interfere with other medications that are being taken.
Along with seeking treatment to manage depression and anxiety, looking after yourself on a day-to-day basis will help your recovery. Even though you might not feel like eating, food can play a vital role in maintaining mental health as well as physical health. Eating regular meals and a varied, nourishing diet can improve your sense of well-being. Avoid alcohol and drugs - although it may seem that they help you to feel better, the feeling is temporary and the after-effects usually make the problem worse.
Keeping active can help you stay physically fit and mentally healthy. It can help lift your mood, help you get a good night’s sleep, increase your energy levels, help block negative thoughts and distract you from your worries.
Taking time out to relax may reduce your stress levels. Even if you don’t feel like it, it’s important to stay active and plan what you’re going to do each day. These can be little things, like going to the movies, talking to a friend or completing part of an assignment. Try to include things that you enjoy in your daily plan. Learning to identify and solve your problems can also be very helpful.
Key points to remember
- Your treatment plan will depend on your situation and what you want, as well as on your symptoms. It can be useful to involve your parents or a friend when you and your doctor are working out which treatments might be best for you.
- Think of some physical activities you enjoy (e.g. walking, cycling, swimming), start slowly and build up your level of exercise. Try a few different ways of staying active so you don’t get bored.
- Psychological and family therapies can only help you if you play your part by going to your appointments, being open with your counsellor and following the plan you both decide is best for you. It may take time and effort, but it will help you to recover.
- Keep talking to your family, doctor and counsellor about how you’re feeling and whether your treatment is working for you - if it isn’t, don’t give up. You can try something else.
- Sometimes people set goals that are hard to achieve. Try to set goals that are achievable for you, even if it’s on a day-by-day, or hour-by-hour basis. And remember to reward yourself too.
- It’s really important to keep going with your treatment, even after you start feeling better - overcoming depression or anxiety can take time, especially if it has been around for a while and become part of your way of life.
This fact sheet is based on information from: