Decision Assist

Depression specialist


The purpose of this tool is to help you decide whether or not to see a depression specialist. When making a decision like this, you must balance:

This tool is not a substitute for professional medical care and advice. Ask your regular doctor to help you decide whether it is worth seeing a specialist. There is usually no exact “right” or “wrong” answer.

Your doctor may make certain recommendations to you. However, the final decision about whether to see a specialist rests with you.

What is the specialist?

Depression is feeling sad, blue, unhappy, miserable, or down in the dumps. Most of us feel this way at one time or another for short periods. But true clinical depression is a mood disorder in which feelings of sadness, loss, anger, or frustration interfere with everyday life.

Depression is a treatable illness, with many therapeutic options available. Increasingly, professionals are viewing major depression as a chronic illness, meaning the condition nearly always returns when treatment is stopped. Therefore, medical treatment must be ongoing.

Forms of depression

Patients with chronic depression usually need to see a specialist. This may include a psychiatrist, who specialize in prescribing medications for mental health disorders such as depression. Most patients also benefit from seeing a talk therapist, typically a psychotherapist. This specialist may be a psychologist, a social worker with a masters degree, a nurse practitioner or advanced practice psychiatric nurse, or other mental health professionals with at least a masters degree. Cognitive behavioral therapy or interpersonal therapy are the most common types of talk therapy.

Cognitive therapy may be particularly helpful for the following people:

Key points

How much time this decision tool will take

What this tool will provide

Review Date: 9/12/2010
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

  • Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement. Health Care Guideline: Major Depression in Adults in Primary Care. Tenth addition. May 2007.
  • Rohan KJ, Roecklein KA, Tierney Lindsey K, et al. A randomized controlled trial of cognitive-behavioral therapy, light therapy, and their combination for seasonal affective disorder. J Consult Clin Psychol. Jun 2007;75(3):489-500.
  • Zuckerbrot RA, Cheung AH, Jensen PS, Stein RE, Laraque D; GLAD-PC Steering Group. Guidelines for Adolescent Depression in Primary Care (GLAD-PC): I. Identification, assessment, and initial management. Pediatrics. Nov 2007;120(5):e1299-312.
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