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Do People Recover From Depression?

Question:

I am a 44 year old woman and have been taking antidepressants for about 2 years now and have been diagnosed as having clinical depression. I was taking Paxil, first 30 mg. finally down to 5 mg. I am now taking Wellbutrin Sr. I also suffer from panic attacks and social anxiety. I think I can deal with the panic attacks and social anxiety, but not the depression. I would like to get off of medication for good. My question is “can one ever get better having clinical depression”? Will this medication ever help or am I on some kind of medication for life?

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  • Dr. Dombeck responds to questions about psychotherapy and mental health problems, from the perspective of his training in clinical psychology.
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Answer:

People do recover from depression. In fact they recover from depression spontaneously all the time, without any treatment. The typical depression lasts for something like six months and then tends (most of the time) to get better all by itself. Depression does tend to reoccur, however. People who have been previously depressed are known to have high relapse rates. For this reason, medical doctors like to keep people on anti-depressant medications for extended periods of time (years).

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p> Contrary to the way that some doctors present it, Depression is not entirely a ‘biological’ disease, only treatable through medication. Medicines are potent ways to address depression, but they have uncomfortable side effects, are expensive, don’t’ always work perfectly and tend to encourage you to be passive in the face of your condition, waiting for the doctor to ‘fix’ you. A more than acceptable alternative treatment for depression is to participate in one of several scientifically tested forms of psychotherapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Depression involves teaching you how to take hold of your depressing thoughts and to examine them for flaws in the light of day. Repeated scientific studies have established that depressed people who have been treated with CBT get better from depression in the same numbers as the best anti-depressant medicines. What is more, CBT treated patients are able to stay non-depressed for way longer than people who have taken medication only (and then stopped taking medication). This is probably because CBT therapy teaches people to actively ward off future depressive thoughts, while medication only suppresses them temporarily. Another good and scientifically established therapy you might want to ask for is known as Interpersonal Therapy (IP) for depression.

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p> Why do medical doctors put people on medication and not scientifically supported forms of psychotherapy? Probably because they are trained in the use of medicine and not in the use of psychotherapy. When a medical doctor is trained in psychotherapy at all, they tend to be trained in the old-style ‘psychodynamic’ psychotherapy which in most cases is pretty useless (beyond the general helpfulness of just being able to talk to someone) in helping people to become less depressed. They tend not to prescribe what they don’t understand.

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