The latest on depression self-help

March 26, 2013

Mark L. Friedman, MD, FACEP, FACP

Depression, which affects one in 10 Americans and more in some states, is growing by nearly 20 percent per year. It's most prevalent among 45- to 60-year-olds, with higher rates among women. When you figure that people currently diagnosed with depression generate approximately $22,960 per year in health costs, recent news that severe cases of depression can be effectively treated with low intensity interventions may be a welcome relief.

Typical signs of depression may include: persistent sadness, fatigue, emptiness, insomnia, loss of interest in daily activities, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or behaviors, appetite and weight changes, concentration and decision making difficulties, sexual difficulties, alcohol or other substance abuse, and physical pain. Of course, negative self-evaluation, overly harsh self-judgment, and the cognitive triad of hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness are also diagnostic indicators.

Research just reported in the British Medical Journal has found that those with severe depression derive "at least as good clinical benefit from "˜low intensity' interventions as less severely ill patients." The researchers suggest using "low intensity" interventions in the first step of treatment. This includes self-help books and websites.

Imagine that. Self-help books and websites may be as helpful to those who are severely depressed, initially, as they are for those with mild to moderate depression. Anti-depressants prescribed too early and for too long may not be the right initial step in caring for severe depression after all. Self-help books and websites won't cure everyone, of course, but they won't add weight or reduce your libido either. What's more, those who turned to self-help books and websites had significantly lower levels of depression than those who turned to typical care from their general practitioners, and were more like to "keep on top of their depression" one year later.

Here are three of the best self-help books on depression to consider:

1. Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns, 1999, Avon Books, revised ed.
2. The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Depression: A Step-by-Step Program by William J. Knaus, 2006, New Harbinger
3. Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think by Greenberger and Padesky, Guilford Press.

Here are three top websites to consider:

1. The Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy
2. PsychCentral
3. About.com

Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D. is the Senior Fitness Consultant for Behavioral Sciences for the American Council on Exercise, earned his doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania, and has served as a behavioral psychology consultant to many fitness industry organizations including IHRSA, Total Gym, Dimension One Hot Tubs, AARP, and Les Mills. He is the Chief Behavioral Scientist for Anytime Fitness gyms and a member of the Sports Medicine Team at the Sporting Club of San Diego/La Jolla. In addition to his frequent interviews in national health and fitness magazines, and weekly TV segments, he maintains a private behavioral science coaching practice in La Mesa, California for clients for emotional wellness, fitness and health related issues.

Originally published Mar 26, 2013 10:00:04 AM.