Someone e-mailed asking me to do a post about the type of treatments there are for anxiety/depression and what success I have had with them. I started treatment at the age of 18 (36 now) so have tried a variety of things, some better than others.
I’m going to class this as the traditional one-on-one therapy you recieve over a set period of time. I believe I’ve had about 5-6 different one-on-one therapies over the years. The very first therapist I saw was whilst I was at University when I was 18. It was a University Counsellor and I believe I had around 6 sessions before I quit Uni. I had only been there a matter of weeks and was swiftly coming to the realisation that I wasn’t very well mentally. It was the first time I spoke to anyone about my own mental health and admitted for the first time I had Social Anxiety Disorder (known more as social phobia then).
I’m a huge advocate of this type of therapy and wish there were more free places on the NHS. Talking really does help, especially when trying to work out your emotions or the root of a problem. My last cycle of therapy was around 6 months ago. It lasted 12 sessions and I went because I was dealing a with a lot of stress in my life and it was increasing the number of anxiety attacks I was getting. My therapist helped me to work out some problems I had with myself and made me think about things I hadn’t really analysed before. It is truly helpful to be able to talk openly to someone who is not there to judge you or tell you what to do.
If you can’t afford private talking therapy I would recommend speaking to your GP about getting some on the NHS (can be a wait depending on where you live). If you live in the Newcastle area I would visit Talking Helps which I have used myself.
I have tried group therapy only once. This was a prescribed therapy from my psychiatrist when I was first diagnosed with social anxiety. I have to admit that its the last thing I wanted to do; I mean I was there because being in the company of others made me anxious! During the first class, there were 12 of us and a further two therapists. We had a rather awkward ice breaker (huge fan of those – NOT!), followed by a session discussing what anxiety was. Barely anyone spoke, obviously because they were anxious! The last 20 minutes included a guided relaxation exercise where we lay on the yoga mats and practised our breathing.
The second week (and for the remaining 10 sessions) only three of us continued to attend along with the two therapists. Having a significantly smaller group was much more helpful to me and allowed me to open up a little more. I found it helpful to meet with other people who also suffered from anxiety. Although it never had much impact on the number of anxiety attacks I was getting, it did help me to figure out how to lessen their impact.
I have been to the odd support group which is very similar to group therapy. I find them helpful to combat isolation and to discuss problems which other people have experience of.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
I’ve had this treatment twice delivered by a therapist for anxiety related conditions. The idea is that by changing a behaviour, you gradually change your thought process and you no longer have the negative reaction to it. So if you had a phobia of spiders, you’d start off looking at photos of spiders until your anxiety disapeared. Then you’d move on to looking at video, until eventually you could hold a spider in your hand.
When I was first diagnosed with social anxiety disorder (1999) it wasn’t really recognised as a condition in the UK. Treatment was for general anxiety. In the US they began offering targeted CBT and I read a lot of books about the methods of this treatment. It took me a good five years to really make a dent into my condition, but I used my own version of CBT to overcome my disorder.
CBT is a great treatment and I know a lot of people who have had fantastic sucess with it, even for general anxiety and depression. I won’t lie, it can be tough – you’re inducing anxiety and confronting the things which make you anxious. But with a proper therapist it is done in a controlled and carefully planned manner; so you’re not jumping straight in at the deep end!
So many people are embarrassed to say if they take medication for their mental health. I am not one of them! My black and white autistic brain tells me the brain is just an organ that can break and I take medication, just like I have inhalers for asthma.
Medication won’t be for everyone and you may be able to deal with your anxiety/depression through other therapies. I went on meds as soon as I was diagnosed with social anxiety because I was a) suicidal from depression and b) experiencing up to 15 panic attacks per day.
I started with Seroxat and took that for about 8 years. I remeber my GP telling me that I wouldn’t feel any different in the first two weeks, which I didn’t. Then one day, out of no where, I woke up feeling incredibly happy. It was like I’d been injected with a very small amount of confidence and it was enough to get me out of the door to embark on my additional treatment.
I eventually came of Seroxat when it began to hit the headlines over its side effects and moved on to Prozac. I didn’t feel that had the desired effect on my anxiety and I again changed, this time to Citalopram. I still take this drug.
There have been times when I have tried coming off anti-depressants but there is a very big drop in my mood; to the point where I start to isolate myself again. My doctors explained that some people don’t produce enough serotonin (the happy hormone) and that I function better on medication.
I have also taken mood stabalisers as well as anti-depressants. This is because I have Bipolar II. I took Sodium Valproate for about 5 years but hated the way they made me feel (they muted my creative side and everything just felt flat). I decided to self manage my Bipolar with just anti-depressants and additional therapies. So far this has worked well.
I have tried a number of alternative therapies (non medical) over the years to help manage both anxiety and depression.
Meditation: A friend of mine introduced me to Buddhism a few years back and I found it incredibly interesting. The meditation sessions allowed me to stop and relax and just ‘be in the moment’, which definately helped ease anxiety as it was happening.
Outdoor Therapy: This is definately my favourite form of therapy and the one I used pretty much everyday. I know when I have anxiety or depression I tend to isolate myself. Getting outdoors allows me to get fresh air, see new places and just allow me time to think and re-energise myself. I’ve also taken part in outdoor community projects, such as gardening and outdoor crafts; again really helpful in getting you into a more healthy head space.
Creative Therapy: Another favourite of mine. When I’m low I tend to write and pour my heart out in journals. Its a great form of release. I also love to draw and create and ‘get lost’ in creating something out of nothing. Lego is a favourite of mine. Its just the bricks and a set of instructions; everything else just slips away.
Online: There are some great resources and online forums for people who are suffering from a wide range of mental health problems. I have been a member of a forum for years and have had great support and advice from complete strangers. Simply google ‘mental health forum’.
There are many more therapies out there, these are just the ones I have experience of. If you have any other suggestions then please send me a message.