Learn / What to Do if You Have Debilitating Depression: Understanding Treatment Options and Finding Support

What to Do if You Have Debilitating Depression: Understanding Treatment Options and Finding Support

Hannah Friedman
 July 11th, 2023|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Key Points

  • Depression can make it feel impossible to do anything. Treatment and can help.
  • Treatment options include rehab, medication, talk therapy, and alternative therapies.
  • Lifestyle changes like diet, sleep, exercise, and mindfulness practice can also help.

How do you know when you need treatment for depression? We all feel sad sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with sitting with your sadness and reflecting on your feelings as you work through it. But when sadness doesn’t go away, it can hint at a more serious condition. If it begins to interfere with your life, you can even attend a rehab program for depression

Sadness vs. Depression 

There are some key differences between sadness and depression. With either, you may feel tired or lost. When you have depression, those feelings persist for longer periods of time, accompanied by a sense of hopelessness or worthlessness. You might even feel numb. Everyday activities you once enjoyed can start to feel like chores. 

Severe depression1 can also take a toll on your physical health, causing restlessness, changes in appetite, and physical aches and pains. And depression often co-occurs with addiction.2 If you have either or both of these conditions, you can choose between several different treatment options.

Available Treatment Options for Severe Depression

When you’re dealing with debilitating depression, it can feel like there’s no way out. But with treatment that aligns with your values, you can build a life you love. The key is to make sure your unique recovery goals are at the forefront of any care plan. To accommodate each patient’s needs, most rehabs offer a combination of treatment approaches.3


Medication can be vital in reducing depressive symptoms. Mood stabilizers, antidepressants, or antipsychotic medication can help you regulate your brain chemistry. It’s normal to go through trial and error with antidepressant medications. Most people try different types and doses to find the best fit for them.


Having a therapist to confide in and talk through your feelings can help you heal from depression. Therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT), and family-focused therapy help you address any underlying issues contributing to depression. You—and sometimes your loved ones—will also develop new coping skills to help you move forward.

Inpatient Rehab

If you have severe depression, you can start recovery in an inpatient rehab. These centers offer a safe space to heal without the distractions and stressors of your typical environment. You can choose between a wide variety of programs, including trauma-informed care, rehabs that treat co-occurring disorders, and more.

Outpatient Treatment

With outpatient treatment programs, you can receive similar care to inpatient programs while living at home. Like most other approaches, outpatient treatment is tailored to your specific needs. Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) let you attend treatment part time, while you continue to work, go to school, or spend time with friends. Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) offer a higher level of care, but still give you some free time outside of therapy.

Alternative Therapies

If you attend a holistic rehab, you can participate in alternative therapies for depression. These treatments look a little different in every program. For example, you might connect with horses during equine therapy or practice mindfulness in a yoga class. These activities can be hugely beneficial, but they’re no substitute for more traditional treatments. A comprehensive care plan for severe depression could include these options as supplemental therapies.

Explore Depression Treatment Centers

Finding Support and Coping With Depression

When you’re recovering from depression, building a solid support system is essential. The details of that support system are different for everyone. Anything that keeps you engaged can help you work through difficult symptoms, reminding you that even strong feelings are temporary.

Spending time with family and loved ones you trust can help you feel supported. Opening up to a therapist might give you insight into your feelings. You can also join a depression support group to connect with people going through similar experiences. The opportunities are endless. But data shows that a few specific activities can be especially helpful.


Exercise has many powerful physical and emotional benefits. First and foremost, practicing physical self care is a meaningful way to cope with feelings of depression. Instead of working out so you can look a certain way, the activity itself can be your primary goal.

Exercise is shown to reduce depressive symptoms.4 When it’s hard to get out of bed, the last thing you might want to do is go for a run. But starting small, even for 10 minutes, helps you slowly build endurance and get stronger every day.

Changing Your Diet

Have you ever heard of the link between food and mood?5 Depression can make you skip meals, crave sweets, and indulge in junk food. Foods like refined sugars, processed foods, and fried foods can make depression worse. Adopting a balanced diet can help positively transform depressive symptoms.6

Eating whole foods that nurture your body can improve your mood along with your physical health. Complex carbs, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants are just a few vital nutrients that can help fight depression.

Getting Enough Sleep

Depressive symptoms can intensify when you don’t get enough sleep. Ironically, depression can trigger sleep problems7 like insomnia, making it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. It can be frustrating to navigate this situation. But making your best effort to improve your sleeping habits is a start. 

You can consistently prioritize sleep with small habits like getting in bed earlier, removing distractions like TV or phones at night, and creating a comfortable sleep environment. These small changes can have a huge impact on the quality of your sleep. You can also ask your doctor or therapist for more specific advice, with your exact symptoms and health history in mind.

Mindfulness Activities

Depression often brings up a lot of dark thoughts. You can take a step back and reflect on your feelings by making time for mindfulness activities like meditation. Mindfulness helps you acknowledge those thoughts without blaming yourself. The act of noticing a thought, accepting it, and then letting it go can empower you to break out of negative cycles.


Many people use creativity as a form of therapy. Spending time on creative outlets like art, music, or web design helps you shift your focus as well. Putting your energy into something positive can help you grow and feel better.

For example, studies suggest journaling is good for mental health8 because it can help you get your thoughts out and clear your mind. Even if your writing is all negative or doesn’t make sense, putting it on the page can make you feel lighter.

Journaling can also help you make sense of your own thoughts and feelings. When you start to notice emotional patterns, you might discover ways to work through them. You’ll also have a written record of your progress, which might help you stay on track when you encounter future challenges. 

The Road to Recovery

The journey to recovery isn’t always straightforward. But with the right support, you can find the best way to improve. For many people, professional treatment is essential. With your care team’s help, you can learn the skills you need to get and stay well.

Healing from depression looks a little different for everyone. You might benefit from any combination of medication, therapy, or alternative treatments. Talk to your provider about which options might best suit your needs, and don’t be afraid to experiment. It can take time to find the most effective approach.

With an effective depression care plan, you can rediscover the things you love most. For example, if you’re a nature lover, your plan might incorporate hiking or time at the beach. Beyond being fun, data shows that spending time outdoors improves mental health.9

Stick to your treatment plan as best as you can. If it feels like it’s not working, get support from your care team. They may suggest changes, or they may encourage you to be patient as treatment takes effect. Healing can be a slow process, and you may experience setbacks. Recovery doesn’t mean that you’ll never feel depressed again. Instead, it means you’ll have the tools to live a rich, meaningful life, even when you’re experiencing mental health symptoms.

Planning Your Journey

As you start to plan your recovery from depression, you can choose from many treatment options. Make sure to put yourself first, and find the type of care that best meets your unique needs. When you’re on the right path, you can take things by day. Small changes in diet, exercise, and other routines can make a huge difference over time. 

Getting professional help for severe depression is a vital part of recovery. When you take this step, you regain power over your own life. Check out our list of depression rehab centers to start your recovery journey. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Severe Depression

What’s the difference between sadness and depression?

Sadness and depression share similar symptoms, but depression is characterized by persistent feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness that interfere with daily life. Depression can also cause physical symptoms such as changes in appetite, physical aches and pains, and restlessness.

What are the available treatment options for severe depression?

Treatment options for severe depression include medication, psychotherapy, inpatient rehab, outpatient treatment, and alternative therapies. These options can be tailored to your specific needs and often include a combination of approaches.

What are some ways to find support and cope with depression?

Building a solid support system is essential when recovering from depression. This can include spending time with family and loved ones, opening up to a therapist, joining a depression support group, exercising, changing your diet, getting enough sleep, and practicing mindfulness meditation. These activities help improve mood and overall well-being.

Return to Resource Library

Our Promise

How Is Recovery.com Different?

We believe everyone deserves access to accurate, unbiased information about mental health and addiction. That’s why we have a comprehensive set of treatment providers and don't charge for inclusion. Any center that meets our criteria can list for free. We do not and have never accepted fees for referring someone to a particular center. Providers who advertise with us must be verified by our Research Team and we clearly mark their status as advertisers.

Our goal is to help you choose the best path for your recovery. That begins with information you can trust.