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Looking after your mental health

What treatment can I get for depression?

On this page, we explain the different treatments that are available for depression. You can also read about ways you can manage your depression.

On this page:

When should I seek treatment for depression?

It’s important to seek help from your GP or health care professional if you think you may be depressed. It’s particularly important to seek help if:

  • you have symptoms of depression that aren’t improving
  • your mood is affecting your work, other interests and relationships
  • you have thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

It might be difficult to imagine how treatment will help. But the sooner you seek help, the sooner you’ll feel better.

There aren’t any physical tests for depression. The main way a health care professional can tell if you are depressed is by asking you questions about how the way you’re feeling is affecting you mentally and physically.

If you need help for a mental health crisis or emergency, you should seek immediate advice. Help and support is available right now.

There are helplines you can call, or, if you don’t want to talk to someone on the phone, text lines you can message. The NHS website has a page on help for suicidal thoughts, which includes a list of places you can get immediate help.

A mental health emergency should be taken as seriously as a physical one. You will not be wasting anyone’s time.

How to assess how you’ve been feeling lately

Before you go to see your health care professional, it may help to think about these questions. Over the last two weeks, how often have you been bothered by the following problems?

  • feeling nervous, anxious or on edge
  • not being able to stop or control worrying
  • little interest or pleasure in doing things
  • feeling down, depressed, or hopeless

You should think about if these problems have been affecting you:

  • not at all
  • for several days
  • for more than half the days
  • nearly every day

Make a note of your answers and take them with you to discuss with your health care professional.

It can be hard to admit or to recognise if you’re feeling depressed. The NHS Choices mood self-assessment tool can help you better understand how you’ve been feeling recently.

What treatment can I get for depression?

The sort of treatment you’re offered will depend on how much your symptoms are affecting you and what sort of treatment you find helps you.

Your health care professional may offer you:

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

CBT is based on the idea that the way we feel is affected by our physical symptoms, thoughts and beliefs and how we behave.

People with depression tend to have negative thoughts, which can lead to negative behaviour. For example:

“I’m a failure” → I stop doing things that I used to enjoy

“It’s hopeless” → I stop trying to do anything to make things better

This turns into a vicious cycle.

Depression vicious cycle

CBT aims to break this cycle. It encourages people to think about their problems and find ways to tackle them. It looks at their thoughts and what they are doing (their behaviour) to identify vicious cycles that may have developed. This helps them to identify unhelpful thinking patterns or behaviour and develop ways to manage the difficulties they may be experiencing.

Your health care professional may offer you CBT on your own or with a group of other people. These sessions may happen over six- eight weeks, or longer. Your health care professional should support you and review your progress.

You may be given an online course, a book or self-help manual, to work through. A health care professional will provide support and check progress either face-to-face or by phone. It’s usually about six sessions over about 12 weeks.

You can read more about CBT on the NHS website.

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Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

ACT is a form of therapy that uses techniques such as mindfulness and acceptance to help you through difficulties. Using ACT, therapists aim to change how you experience negative thoughts and feelings. You are taught methods to reduce the impact of these thoughts, so that if they reoccur you don’t experience them in the same negative way. ACT therapy aims help you identify what is important in your life (these are called values) and commit to actions that are connected to your values. There is still limited evidence supporting the use of new therapies such as ACT, but many therapists are already using these techniques to help their patients.

Medication for depression

You may be offered a medication called an antidepressant as well as a talking treatment.

Your health care professional should discuss which antidepressant is most suitable for you. They should take into account your long-term condition and any potential side effects the drugs may have. Some antidepressants cannot be taken alongside certain medication. Your doctor should talk through the risks and benefits of particular types and monitor you carefully.

You should usually be offered a type of antidepressant called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor or SSRI. Ones called citalopram and sertraline are less likely to affect any other medication you are taking. 

Antidepressants do not start to work immediately - you won’t feel the benefits as soon as you start taking them. Doctors tend to start people on low doses.

If you don't notice a difference to your mood in four weeks, your doctor may consider increasing the dose a little bit or changing you to another medication.

Getting the right antidepressant and the right dose can take a bit of experimentation - be patient. You should discuss any side effects with your doctor. It’s also important you continue to try and manage your depression, for example by being as active as you can. Anti-depressants alone are not the answer.

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