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Treating depression

Treatment for depression usually involves a combination of drugs, talking therapies and self help. Hardly anyone with depression is admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Most get treatment from their GP and make a good recovery.

Mild depression

If you are diagnosed with mild depression but your GP thinks you’ll improve, you can have another assessment in two weeks' time to monitor your progress. This is known as 'watchful waiting'.
Antidepressants are not usually recommended as a first treatment.
Exercise seems to help some people. While your progress is being monitored, your GP may refer you to an exercise scheme with a qualified fitness trainer.
Talking through your feelings may also be helpful. You may wish to talk to a friend or relative, or your GP may suggest a local self-help group.
Your GP may recommend self-help books and computerised cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) (see below for further details).

Chronic mild depression (present for two years or more) is called dysthymia. This is more likely in people over 55 years and can be difficult to treat. If you are diagnosed with dysthymia, your GP may suggest that you start a course of antidepressants.

Moderate depression

If you have mild depression that is not improving, or you have moderate depression, your GP may recommend a 'talking treatment' or prescribe an antidepressant (see below for further details).

Severe depression

Your GP may recommend that you take an antidepressant, together with talking therapy. A combination of an antidepressant and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) usually works better than having just one of these treatments.
You may be referred to a mental health team. These teams are usually made up of psychologists, psychiatrists, specialist nurses and occupational therapists. They often provide intensive specialist talking treatments, such as psychotherapy.

Talking treatments

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
You normally have a fixed number of sessions - usually six to eight sessions over 10-12 weeks. Some GP practices have counsellors specifically to help patients with depression.

CBT is based on the principle that the way we feel is partly dependent on the way we think about things. It teaches you to behave in ways that challenge negative thoughts - for example, being active to challenge feelings of hopelessness.

Interpersonal therapy (IPT)

IPT focuses on your relationships with other people and on problems, such as difficulties with communication or coping with bereavement. There is some evidence that IPT can be as effective as medication or CBT, but more research is needed.


Counselling is a form of therapy that helps you to think about the problems you are experiencing in your life, in order to find new ways of dealing with them. Counsellors support you in finding solutions to problems, but do not tell you what to do.

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