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Depression: Major Depression & Unipolar Varieties
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Treatment: When to Seek Professional Help and Where to Find Help for Major Depression

Rashmi Nemade, Ph.D., Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D., and Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

When to Seek Professional Help

Everyone feels low and depressed every now and then. How then, are you supposed to know when your depressive symptoms have reached a point when professional help would be a good idea? Here's a good rule of thumb: If your depressed mood lasts for more than two weeks, or is seriously interfering with your ability to function at work, with your family, and in your social life, or is causing you to contemplate or plan to commit suicide, it would be a very good idea for you to consult with a mental health professional as soon as possible.

This advice to seek out professional help counts double with regard to any suicidal symptoms you may be experiencing. If you find yourself thinking seriously about suicide, please make an appointment with a mental health doctor (a psychiatrist, or psychologist) as soon as you can.

If you are feeling acutely suicidal; that you will end up committing suicide within hours or days unless you receive some relief, then bypass the advice about making an appointment with a doctor; just take yourself immediately to your local hospital emergency room and tell them there that you are feeling suicidal. In such a case, there is no time to waste with appointments.

Where To Find Help

Listed below are examples of the types of professionals and institutions who can offer you help for depression. The list is presented in roughly the best order of search. Those professions and institutions listed towards the top of this list will be more directly able to help you. Those listed at the bottom of the list will be able to provide you with appropriate referrals to other mental health professionals.

  • Mental health specialists, including:
    • Psychiatrists
    • Clinical Psychologists
    • Social Workers
    • Licensed mental health counselors
  • Your family doctor
  • Your employer provided Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
  • Nearby university or medical school-affiliated mental health clinics
  • Your local hospital
  • Community mental health centers
  • Clergy
  • Your Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO) or Health Insurance company

It is always best and most comfortable to work with a therapist, doctor or other health professional who comes strongly recommended by someone you trust. For this reason, don't be shy about asking around your social circle for therapists and doctors who come recommended by your family and friends, or by doctors you already trust.

If you are truly unsure where to go for help you can access referral services who will help you find local caregivers. Our own searchable database of North American therapists is available here, and our listing of support groups here. You may contact professional societies and state licensure boards to see if they offer therapist or doctor referrals (Click here for licensure boards.) As a last resort, you can always search the Internet or the telephone directory under keywords such as "mental health," "health" "suicide prevention," "crisis intervention" "therapists", "physicians" or "hospitals". In times of crisis, including a suicidal crisis, the emergency room doctors at your local hospital will be able to provide temporary help, and should be able to offer referrals so that a more permanent care situation may be set up.