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Depression Awareness: If Treatment isn’t Working, Tell Your Provider

Graphic courtesy of Defense Health Agency

Depression affects millions of people every year. Most people diagnosed  with depression recover with proper therapy and medication. However, if patients don’t improve, they should speak with a health care provider about another diagnosis. Symptoms of depression vary from person to person and often overlap with other health conditions.

Seek Help from an Expert

Occasional sadness is normal, but if you experience these feelings for a prolonged period of time, something else may be going on. Depression can affect your thoughts, mood and daily life. Even mild depression can become more serious if left untreated.

Common symptoms associated with depression include:

  • feelings of sadness
  • hopelessness
  • restlessness
  • irritability
  • trouble concentrating or sleeping
  • dramatic changes in appetite

The Psychological Health Center of Excellence (PHCoE), offers health care providers screening tools designed to help them recognize and diagnose depression. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, ask to see a doctor or nurse for a screening.

When to Get a Second Opinion

If you are working to treat depression but aren’t feeling better, let your provider know.. Misdiagnoses of depression are relatively uncommon, but it is possible. Your provider can help you determine if seeking a second opinion or more in-depth assessment is necessary.

Common mimics of depression include:

  • Bipolar disorder – Bipolar disorder involves periods of intense highs and lows. Seek a second opinion for your depression diagnosis before taking antidepressants.
  • Hypothyroidism –When thyroid hormone levels are too low, it can affect every part of the body, including the brain.
  • Diabetes – Low blood sugar occurs when you’re hungry and it can cause symptoms similar to those of depression. If you frequently experience rapid changes in your blood sugar levels, it could be a sign of insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. Ask for a blood test to rule it out.
  • Anxiety disorders – Patients with an anxiety disorder may also suffer from depression, and vice versa. While posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and various other anxiety disorders can cause depression-like symptoms, many anxiety disorders benefit from specialized psychotherapy. But, health care providers will only administer specialized treatment with a proper diagnosis.

If you aren’t responding to your prescribed regimen, ask your provider for a full physical and laboratory evaluation. If your results come back normal, talk with your health care provider about less common health concerns and talk with your psychological health provider about your therapeutic progress.

Sometimes, changing therapists can be beneficial, even if your current one is helpful. Working with someone new may provide new insights or new tactics for working through your symptoms. Be open with your provider about what is and isn’t working for you. Together, you can put an action plan together to get the continued help you need.  Many providers are willing to help you transition to a new provider, including sharing your session notes.

Additional Resources

  • Psychological Health Center of Excellence (PHCoE) offers downloadable resources for patients and families that describe the warning signs, related mental health conditions and factors that contribute to risk of depression unique to men and women.
  • The Mood Tracker mobile application helps users monitor and track their emotional health.
  • The Real Warriors Campaign offers articles on managing depression and encourages service members, veterans and military families to seek help.


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This page was last updated on: October 31, 2017.