Reducing Your Risk of Depression

It may not always be possible to prevent depression. However, the following strategies may help reduce your risk of becoming depressed:

Be Aware of Your Personal Risk of Depression

Be alert to factors that can increase your risk for depression such as:

  • Family history
  • High levels of stress
  • Major life changes, such as:
    • Death of a relative
    • Assault
    • Severe marital or relationship problems
  • Psychological factors, such as:
    • Low self-esteem
    • Perfectionism
    • Sensitivity to loss or rejection
  • Inadequate social support
  • Previous depression
  • Chronic physical illness
  • Heart attack
  • Chronic pain
  • Hormonal changes, including postpartum depression
  • Anxiety
  • Medications that can cause depression
  • Alcohol or drug abuse

Have a Psychiatric Evaluation and Psychotherapy, If Needed

If you feel overwhelmed by stress or are experiencing symptoms of depression, see your healthcare provider for a physical exam and mental health evaluation. You may be referred for further evaluation or counseling, if appropriate.

Develop a Strong Social and Spiritual Support System

A network of supportive relationships is beneficial for the prevention and treatment of depression. Supportive relationships serve as a buffer against stress, which can sometimes trigger depression.

Strong religiousness is associated with a reduced risk of depression. Spiritual faith in the context of organized religion can have a buffering effect on depression. In a group setting, it can provide the additional benefit of social support.

Reduce Your Stress

A variety of relaxation techniques can help you cope with stressors that may contribute to depression. Examples include meditation, deep breathing, progressive relaxation, yoga, and biofeedback. These techniques help you pay attention to tension in your body and release it with exercises that help quiet your mind and relax your muscles. You can also reduce stress by getting adequate sleep, rest, and recreation.

Exercise Regularly

Regular exercise helps you relieve stress and may help prevent or reduce depression. Aerobic exercise and yoga have been found to be particularly beneficial for reducing stress and improving mood. Aerobic exercise can raise the levels of brain chemicals that affect mood, such as endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine. Other benefits of exercise include: weight loss (if necessary), increased muscle tone, and higher self-esteem. Yoga provides the benefits of stretching and deep relaxation.

Get Treatment for Alcohol and Drug Abuse

Alcohol and drugs may contribute to depression. If you can discontinue use of such substances on your own, do so. If you think you may have a substance abuse disorder, seek professional treatment.

Eat Healthfully

Eat a healthful diet, that is low in fat, high in fiber, and rich in vitamins and minerals. Specific dietary factors that may be beneficial in depression are the B-complex vitamins (found in whole grains) and omega-3 fatty acids (found in cold-water fish, fish oil, and flax seeds).

Get the Necessary Amount of Sleep

Get a reasonable amount of sleep (around 8 hours) nightly. If you are suffering from insomnia, seek treatment, since chronic insomnia is thought to be a risk factor for depression.

References:

Abnormal Psychology and Modern Life. 11th ed. Allyn and Bacon; 2000.

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th ed. Text Revision. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2000.

Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/depression.cfm#ptdep1. Accessed March 25, 2007.

Logan AC. Omega-3 fatty acids and major depression: a primer for the mental health professional. Lipids Health Dis. 2004;3:25. Available at: http://www.lipidworld.com/content/3/1/25. Accessed March 25, 2007.

Moore DP, Jefferson JW. Handbook of Medical Psychiatry. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Elsevier Mosby; 2004.

National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/.

Wink P, Dillon M, Larsen B. Religion as moderator of the depression-health connection. Res Aging. 2005;27:197-220.



Last reviewed April 2007 by Janet Greenhut, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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