Can depression be cured? Generally, doctors will tell you, “No.” They will tell you that you have a chemical imbalance and that imbalance is only corrected for as long as you take the medication. Once you discontinue the medication, your depression will return. But, is that always true? Can depression never be permanently cured? Let’s examine the underlying issues. You may find the answer that we arrive at is unexpected and even encouraging.
What Does “Cure” Really Mean?
First, let’s talk about what the word cure means. Generally, we use the word cure to mean that the person no longer has the underlying cause of their illness. For example, if we use a course of antibiotics to kill a bacterial infection, then we can say that the disease caused by that bacteria has been cured. The illness can never return unless you are reinfected with the same bacteria. However, if a person has a condition like diabetes, where the best we know how to do is to control it by giving insulin injections to replace what they pancreas cannot make, then this illness is not considered to be curable. Nothing that we currently know how to do will ever restore function to a failing pancreas. The underlying disease will always be there until such a time that scientists learn a way to permanently remove its cause.
So Depression Isn’t Curable?
After reading the paragraphs above, you’re probably thinking that depression must not be curable. After all, every doctor will tell you that antidepressants don’t remove the underlying cause of depression; they only control the symptoms for as long as you’re taking them. If you stop taking them, then your depression symptoms are likely to return. But, is this always true? First, let’s take a look at what you’ve probably been told about what causes depression.
What We Think Causes Depression
When scientists talk about depression – or any medical condition, for that matter – you may notice the frequent use of what is known as “hedging language.” Examples of hedging language includes such phrases as: “we believe,” “the evidence suggests,” and “it appears that.” The purpose of using this type of cautious language is to avoid overstating our certainty about things that we simply do not know for sure.
When it comes to depression, scientists believe it’s due to imbalances in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. The evidence points in this direction; and, medications which seem to alter the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain appear to alleviate the symptoms of depression.
Notice the use of hedging language? We don’t actually understand depression well enough to say any of these things with absolute certainty. As scientific knowledge currently stands, we don’t really know for sure what causes depression, nor do we know with any certainty how to treat it.
Sometimes medications help; but, more often than we care to admit, they fail. Or it takes multiple trials to find a medication/combination of medications that give even partial relief of symptoms.
Because of all this uncertainty, we say that depression can’t be cured, only managed.
The Surprising Truth? Depression Can Often Be Cured
The truth is, the above model of depression being a chemical imbalance you are born with that needs to be treated by a medication that corrects that imbalance simply isn’t the entire story. Nor is it true for many, many people. The causes of depression are complex and varied. While it is true that antidepressants do not cure depression, this doesn’t mean that depression is not curable. If we can identify what is causing it and remove or control that cause, we can effect a permanent cure. And, there are many depression causes that we can identify and effectively treat. It’s also very possible that you may have one of these treatable causes and don’t even know it.
Depression Causes That Can Be Cured
Please note, I am not saying that every case of depression is caused by one of these things. Nor am I saying that we know how to cure every case of depression. What I am saying is that these situations are quite common and you owe it to yourself to rule all of these things out before you make the assumption that you can’t be helped or that you must be on an antidepressant for the rest of your life. Many cases of depression can be either cured or better dealt with by addressing the underlying causes. The following are some of the many avenues that you can explore which are not due to some inborn deficiency in neurotransmitter production/usage:
- Grief and loss
- Extreme stress
- Drugs and alcohol
- Medical conditions
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Circadian rhythm disturbances
- Sex hormone imbalances
- And more
Take a moment to let it really sink in what we’ve discussed so far. Depression can often often be cured if you identify and remove what is causing it.
Were You Properly Diagnosed?
How much effort did your doctor put into looking for the underlying causes of your depression before prescribing you medication?
If you saw a GP, maybe they ran some blood work and it came up normal? For many conditions, such as thyroid issues, cutting-edge medical practitioners will tell you that “normal” bloodwork does not mean you are normal.
Nor does seeing a doctor mean that he or she did a thorough job ruling out all medical conditions.
Even if you were diagnosed properly, your treatment may have been inadequate or off the mark. Doctors are only human. They make mistakes, get pressed for time or simply don’t know everything there is to know about the vast field of medicine.
Sometimes you have to do your own research to get at the root of what ails you. Do you have other unexplained health issues? Don’t assume that your depression is necessarily a separate issue.
Or perhaps you went straight to a psychiatrist, psychotherapist or counselor who did no diagnostic testing at all? When the only tool you have is a hammer then everything looks like a nail, right? So they often don’t bother looking for other causes for your symptoms before jumping right into medication and/or therapy because that’s simply not in their toolbox.
Doing the Research
This is where CureConnection comes in. Our goal is to provide you with the tools and information you need to finally get at the root cause(s) of your depression. Although we make no promises that you will be able to cure your depression, we do believe it’s possible for many. It’s simply a matter of asking the right questions. We will do our best to help guide you in your search.
Nancy Schimelpfening has a master’s degree in community health education from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA.
She was the About.com (now Verywell.com) expert in depression for 18 years, providing her readers with reliable, evidence-based answers to their many questions and concerns about their illness.
Nancy is the founder of the non-profit organization Depression Sanctuary, which provides a free, online peer support group for those with depression. She has served as its president since 2016.
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