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The World Health Organization (WHO) explains that severe depression, clinically referred to in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), as major depressive disorder (MDD), is “characterized by persistent sadness and a lack of interest or pleasure in previously rewarding or enjoyable activities,” resulting in significant impairment in one’s daily life. Harvard Medical School explains that the most prominent symptoms of MDD include a severe and persistent low mood, profound sadness, or a sense of despair. Major depressive disorder is recognized as the leading cause of disability in America for individuals ages fifteen to forty-four. Findings from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) indicate that 8.4% of all U.S. adults, which is equal to nearly 21 million people, had at least one major depressive episode. Major depressive disorder is a complex psychiatric disorder that affects mood, cognition, behavior, and impedes adaptive functioning. If left untreated, MDD can adversely affect one’s overall health and lead to short and long-term physiological complications.


Obtaining an accurate diagnosis (concluded with results from a medical exam with blood work, and psychological evaluation) is essential to the recovery process for any mental health illness, including depression. There is no single treatment plan that is entirely effective for everyone that struggles with depression, as each person is unique. Hence, treatment for depression requires a customized treatment plan that is inclusive of a multidisciplinary approach. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) underscores common components that may make up one’s treatment plan for MDD, which typically include a variety of psychotherapeutic approaches such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), expressive arts therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), and more. Some people diagnosed with severe major depressive disorder may also benefit from medication. Although there are several types of antidepressant medications used to treat MDD, the first line-treatment for depression is either of the following: 

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): work by slowing the re-absorption of serotonin (the neurotransmitter known to help with mood regulation and anxiety) in one’s the brain. Common examples of SSRIs that may be used to treat depression include, but are not limited to:
  • Selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): work by reducing the reabsorption of serotonin and norepinephrine in one’s brain. They can be prescribed to treat anxiety, depression, and some chronic pain conditions. Common examples of SNRIs that may be used treat MDD include:

As is true with taking any type of medication there are associated risks. The specific risks will vary from person to person, as they will depend on several contributing factors (e.g., the individual’s health history, the presence of any additional mental health ailments, substance abuse issues, genetics, etc.). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires antidepressant medications to clearly display a black box warning label indicating the possibility of increased suicidal thoughts and behaviors when taken by some individuals under the age of 25. In most cases integrating a combination of both psychotherapy and medication into one’s treatment plan yields the most successful long-term results.

The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health. As such, please do not use any material provided above to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.

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