What is a depressive disorder?

What treatment is available?

Page last updated: May 2007

Depressive disorders can be very effectively treated.

People experiencing feelings of sadness that have persisted for a long time, or that are affecting their lives to a great extent, should contact their family doctor or community health centre.

Treatment will depend on each person's symptoms, but will include one or more of the following.

  • Psychological interventions, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), are aimed at changing patterns of thinking, behaviours and beliefs that are related to depression.
  • Interpersonal therapies help people to understand the effect of interpersonal relationships on their emotions.
  • Anti-depressant medications relieve depressed feelings, restore normal sleep patterns and appetite, and reduce anxiety. Unlike tranquillisers, anti-depressant medications are not addictive. They slowly return the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, taking one to four weeks to achieve their positive effects.
  • Specific medications help to manage mood swings, such as for bipolar mood disorder.
  • Lifestyle changes, such as physical exercise and reducing harmful alcohol and other drug use, assist people to recover from depression.
  • For some very severe forms of depression, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), or shock treatment as it is sometimes misnamed, is a safe and effective treatment. It can be life saving for people at high risk of suicide or who, because of the severity of their illness have stopped eating or drinking, would die as a result.
The family and friends of people with a depressive disorder can often feel confused and distressed. Support and education, as well as better community understanding, are an important part of treatment.