10 Steps to Prevent Depression

 Depression is unfortunately very common in Canada with approximately 11% of men and 16% of women experiencing major depression at some point in their life. Depression can have devastating effects including affecting your relationships, your ability to work/attend school and can even contribute to chronic diseases. It can also lead to suicide. If you have experienced depression in the past, follow these steps to avoid or minimize the severity of future depressive episodes.  

1. Psychotherapy 

Individuals who have had psychotherapy are less likely to have future episodes of depression and may even continue to improve after they have stopped treatment. Those who are susceptible to depression can be taught cognitive behavioural therapy techniques to help them incorporate positive self-talk and help them restructure negative thought patterns.  Psychotherapy also helps by improving coping skills and changing any negative attitudes and beliefs caused by depression.  Chronic stressful situations often contribute to depression and psychotherapy can help you learn how to manage stress, work through your grief, improve your self-esteem, resolve conflicts, recover from trauma, and improve your work relationships. Further, interpersonal psychotherapy can support depressed adults work through the troubled relationships that may be causing their depression.  Couple’s therapy may be helpful for individuals who are in relationships that may be contributing to the development or maintenance of their depression.

2. Antidepressants

Most people who have experienced depression will experience additional depressive episodes in the future.  Antidepressant medications primarily work on altering brain chemistry, including neurotransmitters called norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine.  Different classes of antidepressants include MAIOs, Tricyclics, SSRIs and SNRIs and these help minimize the severity of depressive symptoms.  Medication can also include mood stabilizing drugs that help to reduce the frequency of episodes of depression.  For moderate and severe depression, medications are often essential and can even save lives.  

3. Cut back on Social Media Time 

There is increasing evidence that the use of social media can cause or contribute to depression and low self-esteem. Spend less time checking your social media and consider putting a time limit on these activities.

4. Diet

Different studies suggest that a healthy diet full of lean protein, fruits and vegetables aids in the  prevention of depression. Food intake should include omega 3’s, antioxidants, vitamin D3, B6, B12, folic acid and fiber.  Cut down on sugar and highly processed foods. Further, foods with anti-inflammatory effects are also recommended.  

5. Stress Management

Finding ways to lessen the impact of chronic stress (such as practicing yoga, using relaxation techniques, meditation, and accessing your social support system) can help prevent depressive episodes. 

6. Exercise

Endorphins created by moderate exercise help to prevent depression or keep symptoms at bay. These endorphins are naturally relaxing and calming.  Studies show that aerobic (or heart-rate elevating) activities help reduce depressive symptoms the most but strength training or conditioning may also help to manage depressive symptoms. 

7. Sleep 

Studies have found that people with insomnia are ten times more likely to experience depression. Sleep is especially important for brain health so establishing and maintaining good habits for restful, effective sleep are key to preventing depression.  Sleep routines should include establishing regular sleep and wake times, avoiding excess eating, smoking or drinking alcohol before sleep, creating a proper environment for sleep, and engaging in regular physical exercise. 

8. Social Connection

Spending more face to face time with family and friends and improving social connections is important for our mental health and can protect against depression.  Attend support groups and stay connected to others on a regular basis.  

9. Reduce alcohol, drug and nicotine use 

The excessive use of alcohol and any drug use may put you at higher risk of depression, and depression relapse.  Also, nicotine can trigger depression.  Cut down on alcohol, drugs or smoking or avoid them altogether. 

10. Stay on Course 

If you have received a treatment plan from your doctor or mental health practitioner, continue to adhere to the plan.  Remain on your antidepressants as prescribed by your doctor and never stop them abruptly (even if you start to feel better).  Notice what triggers your depression and prepare yourself ahead of time with actionable steps you can take to address these triggers.  This may include attending “booster” sessions with your psychotherapist.