5 Signs That Treatment for Depression is Beginning to Work
Approaches for depression treatment need to be tailored to each person's symptoms
We live in an age of instant gratification. Many of us can barely tolerate when it takes more than a few seconds to log on to a website. Yet for those who are experiencing the devastating symptoms of depression — sadness, irritability, lack of focus and energy, sleep and appetite problems, and a host of other symptoms — staying calm and patient until treatment becomes fully effective is essential.
Individuals suffering from depression typically want to see immediate improvement after taking psychiatric medication. Often, if they don't feel better after a few weeks, they become anxious and stop treatment too soon. Tragically, many assume that treatment has failed and feel even more hopeless than before.
Being prepared for the journey to recovery from depression —knowing what to expect and when — is key to having a successful outcome.
Being prepared for the journey to recovery from depression — knowing what to expect and when — is key to having a successful outcome. This is why, once you've been prescribed psychiatric medication (which may include antidepressants, anti-psychotic drugs, and sleep aids, among other agents), it's crucial to ask your physician what to anticipate in two weeks, four weeks, two months, or three months after starting treatment.
Treatment for Each Person's Symptoms
Since anxiety can be an everyday companion to depression, providing a roadmap is educational, reassuring, and vital to sticking with the treatment plan. There is no cookie-cutter cure for depression. Treatment needs to be tailored to each person's symptoms.
Yet while every case is individual, and patient responses vary, there are often signs of sunlight on the horizon during the early stages of treatment that indicate it is beginning to take effect and bode well for its ultimate success.
The Signals That Treatment is Beginning to Work
Below are five signals that treatment for depression is starting to work:
- You have improved concentration and focus. Being distracted is one of the most disturbing and troublesome symptoms of depression. It can interfere with work, relationships, and the enjoyment of previously pleasurable activities. Have you noticed that you can focus more on reading, conversations, and work? Chances are, treatment is beginning to take effect.
The general sense that "I am better" may be one of the last symptoms to respond to treatment.
- People relate better to you. Colleagues and friends who formerly seemed distant and disengaged are suddenly more proactive about talking and being with you. It’s as if a magnetic pull is drawing them to you in a way that didn’t happen when you were in the depths of depression. Others may sense positive signs of your recovery even before you do.
- You are willing to engage in activities. You may notice that you are saying “yes” to social, fitness, cultural, and other opportunities that you previously avoided. While you may not yet be fully active, you are beginning to “dip your toes in the water” and attend some social gatherings, sign up for a yoga or other exercise class, partake in a hobby, eat more nutritiously, or engage in some other activity that suggests a healthier approach to life. Exercise, good nutrition, and other wellness habits can begin to be integrated to achieve a full and better life.
- Psychotherapy has begun to flourish. Psychotherapy typically stalls when one is in the midst of depression. People who are depressed are numb. They don’t have the energy to do the work of therapy, or even the desire. Once psychiatric medication begins to lift the dark cloud of depression, individuals can utilize psychotherapy and achieve self-awareness and self-regulation that previously may not have been possible.
Signs of a turnaround may include the development of a trusting relationship with a doctor, increased self-esteem, or a spiritual awakening.
- Regaining faith. Feeling hopeless and helpless are key signs of being afflicted with depression which can usually be seen when patients come in for treatment, confident that there is nothing in the physician’s toolbox that can make an impact. Individuals who are depressed generally feel that no one can help them, lack faith in themselves, and may even let go of their religious beliefs. Signs of a turnaround may include the development of a trusting relationship with a doctor, increased self-esteem, or a spiritual awakening.
The general sense that "I am better" may be one of the last symptoms to respond to treatment. Others will often see improvements before you do. They'll notice that you are getting more things done and seem less dejected. But that final global self-report — that lightbulb moment when you experience a sense of relief and feel "Aha, I am better" — may not occur until after three months of therapeutic medication dosages have kicked in.
So good luck and don't give up. Your treatment response may be right around the corner.
Samuel L. Pauker, M.D. is a psychiatrist, psychopharmacologist, and psychoanalyst practicing in New York City and the author of a forthcoming book on treating depression. He is Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Weill-Cornell University Medical College, Assistant Attending at New York Presbyterian Hospital, and Adjunct Faculty at Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. Read More