How to Deal with Depression: What Worked for 16 Real-Life People
From meds to exercise to experimental therapies, people break through the isolation and get real about the things that made the biggest difference to their depression
Depression: The silent epidemic
Central to the tragedy of depression is that so many people fail to seek help. About 300 million people worldwide suffer from this mood disorder, and it impacts their relationships, their work, and even puts their life in danger. Nearly 20 percent of all adults in the United States will experience depression at some point in their life, and two-thirds of cases are women, according to the World Health Organization. Yet for all the people who have it, few talk about it and most feel isolated. These 16 people have decided to speak up, revealing how they deal with depression: Here are their best tips for weathering this storm.
"I go running outdoors"
Before Alice Roberts, of Salt Lake City, Utah, discovered running, she says her depression kept her house-bound, in bed, and binge-watching Netflix all day. One day, she forced herself to try a little jog outside. The sunshine, fresh air, and stimulation combined to make a powerful antidepressant. "Once I get out running, I feel so much better, and it's easier to go the next time," she says. "Too many days off, and it's a struggle again." Science backs up Roberts' experience because exercise is just one of the 16 natural ways to manage depression.
"I use a 'happy light'"
Getting a daily dose of morning sunshine has been proven in multiple research studies to help people deal with depression, especially those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in the fall and winter. But while sunshine definitely helped Mary Rogers, the winters in her home of Columbus, Ohio, just didn't provide enough light. Then her therapist suggested she use a "happy light"—a large artificial light that mimics the spectrum of light found in natural sunshine—on days she couldn't get outside. "This has been the key for me, getting outside and using my light every day, along with medication, prayer, music, and playing with my children," she says.
"I keep a daily gratitude journal"
Counting your blessings may sound like trite advice to someone suffering from the suffocating darkness of depression, but sometimes the most effective solutions are simplest, says Natalie Nash, of Seattle, Washington. Nash had long struggled with how to deal with depression when she decided to try keeping a 30-day gratitude journal. She thought it might help some; she was surprised to see how much of a difference it made in her mood. The journal, along with medication, helped her break the cycle of isolation and loneliness that she was caught up in. "When I have rough days I try to focus on what is going well and what brings me joy. It also helps me recognize blessings and answers to prayers," she says. Turns out a gratitude journal is just one of the 30 things (big and small) that will help you feel happier every day.
"I do ketamine therapy"
Used for decades as an anesthetic, the drug ketamine is being studied as a treatment for severe depression—especially depression that doesn't respond to other treatments. "Ketamine absolutely changed my life," says Marshall L., of Los Angeles, who says his depression was so severe he didn't leave his house for six years. "I get an infusion every three to four weeks and it feels like that fog has lifted. I have a clarity and a will I never had before." Now, he can hold down a job, is in a relationship, and is working with a therapist to develop coping skills to prevent future depressive episodes once he stops the treatments.
"I used martial arts to change my thought patterns"
While many people with depression can't point to an exact cause of their suffering, some depression is triggered by traumatic life events. Scott Aksamit, of Englewood, Colorado, discovered this for himself after he suffered a major depressive episode after the death of his brother. How to deal with his depression? He decided to try martial arts as a way to get his anger out and was surprised to discover how much it also helped with his mood. The effects went beyond exercise, however. "My coach taught me the power of positive thinking and I was able to use that to reframe how I thought about my life," he says.
"I take a daily antidepressant pill"
When it comes to depression, medication works, especially when used in conjunction with other treatments like exercise and therapy, according to a study published in The Lancet. It's not a perfect solution and some people find more relief than others but getting on a prescription anti-depressant was a game-changer for Denise, McNeill, of Vineyard, Utah, who says she's struggled with the mental illness all her life. "I feel fortunate that medication helped me immediately," she says. "It's a hereditary condition in my family, so I will be on medication for the rest of my life and I am totally fine with that."
"I shower and get dressed every morning"
One of the primary signs of depression is difficulty doing regular, everyday tasks, like self-care. And not taking care of your physical needs can increase depression, creating a self-reinforcing cycle. Ivie Cosens, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, first noticed this pattern when she left for college and was on her own—without her mom reminding her to take care of herself, things started to slip through the cracks. Now she says she stops this cycle before it can start by making sure that even if she does nothing else that day, she showers and gets dressed in real clothes (no pajamas or sweats!). "Simple things like getting ready for the day and making sure I eat three meals a day help me a lot because it feels like I've accomplished something," she explains. "When I am feeling depressed I go through that self-care checklist and make sure I'm doing everything I can."
"I eat an ultra-clean diet"
When his doctors told Dennis Legori of Columbus, Ohio, he was in remission from cancer, Legori assumed the worst was over. However, his oncologist told him that post-chemo depression is a real thing and more common than people think. Sure enough, his mood started to drop and he decided to take steps to fix it immediately, starting with following a diet of whole foods. "My diet includes a lot of greens, berries, and smoothies and I limit red meat, avoid soda, and drink plenty of water," he says. Legori also gets 30 minutes of exercise every day. Now he feels better than he ever has and, he notes, even has fewer gray hairs than before. Here's how to eat now to lower your risk of cancer.
"I use EMDR therapy"
This non-traditional treatment for depression turned out to be exactly what Lindsey Letendre, of Farmington, Minnesota, needed when she had a bout of severe depression after the birth of her son. EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, and the therapy uses hand-tapping and eye movements to help people process traumatic or painful memories. While Letendre had struggled with depression on and off previously, the postpartum episode was so intense it made her seek out alternatives. "I still struggle with depression but I found EMDR to be the most helpful form of therapy for me," she explains. Some therapists also use EMDR as a treatment for PTSD and anxiety.
"I got the right diagnosis"
Not all depression is the same, and there are many mental health diagnoses that are often lumped together under the umbrella of depression. Getting an accurate diagnosis was the key to finding effective treatment for Rachel Larson, of Glendive, Minnesota. For nearly a decade, she's gone through periods of being really down, but it got very bad during her first pregnancy—and it was then that she finally got an answer to her extreme mood swings. "It turns out I suffer from bipolar depression, which has aspects of both depression and bipolar disorder, and using medications for bipolar disorder, rather than regular antidepressants, has made all the difference," she says. "Now I go to counseling and take medication and I am so much happier!" Does her story sound familiar? Check out these 8 symptoms of bipolar disorder you might be ignoring.
"I make sleep my #1 priority"
As a mom of four kids under six—including a one-month-old infant—Janette Kudin, of Idaho Falls, Idaho, knows all about sleep deprivation. Thanks to postpartum depression, she also understands the mental fog and dark mood of the mental illness and the toll it takes. It was only recently, however, that she discovered the connection between sleep and depression. "I get postpartum anxiety and depression and have found one of the best things I can do is to get enough sleep," she says. "I force myself to sleep whenever I can, even if that means putting off household chores or other duties. Right now, having a newborn means I have to let my bigger kids watch a show so I can nap while the baby does. Those are things I don't necessarily love to do, but if I get over-tired, I'm a mess and it's worse for everyone."
"I do yoga twice a week"
Monica Haines, of Phoenix, Arizona, has been on medication for depression for 14 years; while the meds definitely help, she found greater relief when she started yoga, she says. "What is so helpful is how it teaches you to just be present wherever you are and to be gentle with yourself," she says. "Depression feels so intolerable that just having someone coach self-acceptance, one moment at a time is extremely helpful for me." Another benefit is that her yoga classes get her out of the house and with her friends, two other things that help her depression. If you struggle with depression too, know you're not alone: 26 depression quotes that capture exactly what you're feeling.
"I take CBD oil every day"
Cannabidiol oil is all the rage these days, with people using it for everything from pain relief to dealing with their dog's anxiety. April Olshavsky, of Phoenix, Arizona, decided to give it a try: At first, she was using it for chronic pain, but she soon discovered it helped her chronic depression as well, eventually replacing her antidepressant medication. "I take a low dose of 125 mg tincture by mouth as a daily preventive measure," she explains. "I gave up my pharmaceutical prescription because I didn't like that it numbed my mind, dulled all emotions, and killed my sex drive. With CBD, I noticed I was still able to feel my emotions and process them appropriately through tears, joy, and clearer thinking." For more information, check out everything you need to know about CBD oil.
"I rely on my family"
Katie Meier, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has learned that her depression needs a multi-pronged approach to keep it under control. She uses medication, exercise, and therapy but says the thing that has made the biggest difference is having the loving support of her family. "They listen and I can tell them anything," she says. "I never feel like I have to hide anything. I can tell them if I'm having an anxiety attack, am on or off my meds, need help, or just need them to listen. Having them provides so much relief and comfort for me."
"I practice mindfulness"
Mindfulness is the practice of being intentionally aware and present in your life—an especially important antidote to the chronic distraction of our tech-driven society. It can also help with depression, by helping you see connections between how you're feeling and what you're doing, along with recognizing negative moods sooner, says Kevin Lynch, of Edmonds, Washington. "For me, living mindfully has taught me that my depression is not something I can just sweep under the rug. It's important to acknowledge it," he says. "Counseling, journaling, meds, sleep, daily walks to the local coffee stand, playing drums and guitar, listening to music, sketching, sitting with our cats, hanging with my family, building stuff, brewing beer, my faith—they all sound like small things but all of them together, working in unison have helped combat my depression."
"I connect with my spiritual side"
"For me, the most powerful treatment for my depression is praying," says Tasha Kaye, of Wenatchee, Washington. "I do so much praying! Being spiritually grounded and close to God allows me to take a much-needed breath." It's not just Kaye; people who are spiritual and focus that outward into religion and caring for others (versus inward) are less likely to have depression and have fewer symptoms when they do get depressed, according to a report published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. Religiosity is also one of the 10 things people who look and act younger than their age do.
- World Health Organization: Depression
- The Lancet: "Comparative efficacy and acceptability of 21 antidepressant drugs for the acute treatment of adults with major depressive disorder: a systematic review and network meta-analysis"
- The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease: "Risk for Depression When Spirituality Exceeds Religiosity"