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Major Depressive Disorder Treatment Overview

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Care Plan


First steps to consider

  • It’s important to see a healthcare provider, like a primary care provider or a mental health provider, to get a diagnosis and discuss a treatment plan.
  • Depression is often best treated with a combination of therapy, lifestyle changes, and medication.

Emergency Care

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If you have thoughts or plans of hurting yourself, call 911 or 988 (the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline) or go to the nearest emergency room or psychiatric hospital.

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All treatments for major depressive disorder
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Read more about major depressive disorder care options

When to see a healthcare provider

See a healthcare provider if you have symptoms of major depressive disorder. It’s important to see a provider if your depression is affecting your life, for example, preventing you from maintaining good hygiene, caring for loved ones, or attending work or school. You should also see a provider if you have passive thoughts of self-harm or suicide, meaning you don’t intend to act on them. If you have an active plan to take your life, go to the nearest emergency room or psychiatric hospital.

Getting diagnosed

  • A psychiatrist or mental health professional (a psychologist or social worker) will typically diagnose you based on your symptoms.
  • You may be asked to complete a standardized questionnaire that asks you how often you experience symptoms of depression to get an accurate diagnosis.

What to expect from your visit

Antidepressant medications may be prescribed for major depressive disorder. There are several types of antidepressants. Each person reacts differently to them, so it may take some time to find the one that works best for you.

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft) are sometimes the first antidepressants your provider will prescribe.
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), which include duloxetine (Cymbalta) and venlafaxine (Effexor XR), tend to have fewer side effects.
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) tranylcypromine (Parnate) and phenelzine (Nardil) may have more side effects.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants like imipramine (Tofranil) and nortriptyline (Pamelor) are more likely to have side effects.
  • There are also atypical antidepressants, which don’t fit into any of the above categories but may still be used to treat symptoms of depression. They include vilazodone (Viibryd) and bupropion (Wellbutrin).

There are several types of talk therapy your doctor may recommend that can help depression.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most well-studied therapy. CBT addresses distorted thoughts and feelings about yourself.
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT) focuses on problems in your current relationships that may be worsening your depression.
  • In psychodynamic therapy, the focus is on helping you understand yourself. This may be done by looking for recurring emotional themes and patterns, discussing past experiences and how they play a role in your current struggles, and more.

Prescription medications for major depressive disorder

  • SSRIs: fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva), sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro)
  • SNRIs: duloxetine (Cymbalta), venlafaxine (Effexor XR), desvenlafaxine (Pristiq), levomilnacipran (Fetzima)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants: imipramine (Tofranil), nortriptyline (Pamelor), amitriptyline, doxepin, desipramine (Norpramin)
  • MAOIs: tranylcypromine (Parnate), phenelzine (Nardil), isocarboxazid (Marplan)
  • Atypical antidepressants: trazodone, mirtazapine (Remeron), vortioxetine (Trintellix), vilazodone (Viibryd), bupropion (Wellbutrin)

Types of providers

  • A primary care provider can sometimes prescribe medications and may refer you to a mental health professional.
  • A psychiatrist can help diagnose you and prescribe medications.
  • A psychologist or social worker can provide talk therapy.
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