Mental health articles

OF mental health care and mentally ill

Self-Help Treatment for Depression

There are a number of simple suggestions for self-help for depression. Remember that self-help is the first essential step of any treatment plan for depression, so you might just want to try out some of these to see if they help. However, it is the hardest thing in the world to change your life around when it feels as if you are wading through treacle, or at the bottom of a deep well. So some of these will not be easy to do, or to get started on, because you are depressed. Don’t let it stop you trying.


The most important ingredient towards getting better is hope. This can come from the knowledge that these sorts of suggestions are generally quite effective, and so most people doget better reasonably quickly, and from the trust that the most important factor in getting better is your ownattitude towards your recovery.


Any activity that promotes endurance, flexibility, or strengthening is a natural anti-depressant. Exercise, and in particular aerobic exercise, improves circulation, brings increased blood flow and oxygen to the brain, releases endorphins (the body’s natural pain-killing chemicals), boosts serotonin, and counteracts stress. Unfortunately, the most challenging aspect of depression is a general lack of motivation and low energy levels. The overwhelming sense of physical inertia can make it very difficult to do even the most simple tasks, much less get out and do some regular exercise. Aerobic exercise is becoming a much more recognized form of anti-depressant therapy. It is widely acknowledged that if you candiscipline yourself to do some form of exercise regularly, you will definitelyfeel better for it. Even a brisk walk once a day is a very good start. Get a friend or family to help you with your motivation at first.


Good nutrition supports the optimal functioning of your body and brain. Try to eat a balanced diet of healthy foods. Eating as much organic produce as possible will help to minimize the intake of chemicals and preservatives, which can cause problems in sensitive individuals. Another part of nutritional self-care is cutting back on sugar, salt, sweets, and alcohol. Studies have shown that too much sugar (in any form) can foster anxiety, as well as depression. Alcohol can also have a negative effect. Eat the more complex carbohydrates. Drink plenty of water. Do not eat any “comfort” foods, or much in the way of ready-prepared and processed foods. Eat little and often: have bowls of fruit and nuts to hand: fruit smoothies are very good. There is a section on “Foods for depression” a little later.


Try to develop a good sleep schedule—a regular time of going to sleep and arising—and stick to it. Sleep irregularities are among the early warning signs of anxiety and depression. Agood night’s sleep can really help towards curing depression. Prepare yourself: don’t eat too late, take some very gentle exercise before you go to bed, have a bath, read a book for a little when in bed.

Be prepared

Make a list of things that you really must do each day and tick them off as you go: this can give you a sense of achievement. If you think of something pleasant and self-indulgent that you would rather do than one of your chores, then do it instead and just enjoy it. Then do the chore a little later.


One of the most powerful ways to impact your involuntary nervous system and your emotions is through your breathing. If you are stressed, or startled, or angry, just stop … close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Inhale slowly through your nose, directing the air up into your chest as well as deep into your belly, fill your whole body with as much air as possible. Then hold this position for a few seconds. Next, exhale slowly through your mouth and try to empty your body of all that air—completely, like squeezing it out. Repeat this 4–5 times, and you will see how well this technique works. You will feel a bit better. Your feelings will have changed a bit. Not bad for a couple of minutes’ work.


Even when you are just making laughing expressions with the muscles of your face, your body starts to produce the various chemicals (endorphins) that make you feel happier. Watch films or TV programmes that are funny. Listen to jokes or read books that you enjoy. Most importantly, meet up with friends who make you laugh, or whom you can laugh with.

Keep a journal

Writing in a diary or journal is one of the best self-help methods that you can use. Put down any new sights and smells, thoughts or feelings, or write about new experiences of any kind. Note down everything that you have done during the day, but especially write about your feelings—and the variety and complexity of them. Write every day, if possible. It may help to write at the same time every day, maybe after dinner or before bed. Write for yourself only: do not show this journal to anyone.

Extend or maintain your social contacts

When we get depressed, we often cut ourselves off from our friends and family. Try to reconnect and make the effort to see these people again. They are the closest people to you. Tell them that you have been a bit depressed. It makes things easier than trying to hide it, or do it all yourself.

Voluntary organizations

There are several voluntary organizations that can give active support and help to people with depression. Depression Alliance is one of these. If your depression was triggered by a bereavement, an organization like Cruse may well be able to help.

Natural world

We have often lost touch with the natural world. Try cutting yourself off from the media for a while: do not read newspapers, or watch the news on TV. Give yourself a break. Spend some more time in nature. Whether it is watching a moonrise over a mountain peak, a sunset over the ocean, or simply taking a leisurely walk in your city park, or by a river, spending time in nature imparts its healing touch. If you have a garden, there’s always something to do in it, or just to enjoy it. Even in a flat you can do this: try repotting some houseplants, pottering with some bulbs, sorting out a window box or some patio planters, it all helps marvellously.

Maybe a friend needs a bit of help with their plants or garden, so that you can enjoy their garden and their company as well. Arecent survey by MIND showed that when a walk in a country park was compared with a walk in an indoor shopping centre, 71% of people with depression reported a decrease in the levels of depression, 71% felt less tense, and 90% felt higher self-esteem after their green walk; after walking through the indoor shopping centre 22% felt their depression increased, 50% felt more tense, and 44% felt a decrease in self-esteem.


If you believe that prayer can have an effect, take some regular time to pray, both by yourself and/or with other people. Meditation involves stilling the mind, so that we can then hear the “still small voice of God” within, and be open to any spiritual guidance. This is also very relaxing and a great aid towards reducing anxiety. Going (back) to church or a regular religious meeting can help reconnect with something that was important for you, and bigger than you, which can be very good.


Try to indulge in some right-brain creative activity. Try to allow yourself to become lost in something creative or constructive. Creative activity can embrace many things: cooking, artwork, dancing, gardening, writing poetry or prose, doing jigsaws, and any form of craft, etc. It is the doing of these that is important—not how well you do them. As you do such activity, different parts of your brain (right-brain) are used, different connections are made: these are restorative. Sometimes it helps to paint some interpretive images of your depression, or write about them, or sculpt them, or make poems.

Do not judge

Try not to judge yourself or others, but particularly try not to judge yourself. Negative judgements and criticisms always debilitate, rather than give you any good feelings or help constructively with your situation. This is just not what you want or need. Do not go there: keep coming away from that place of judgement or blame! Try to replace negative thought forms with some more positive ones; try to suspend judgement.

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