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The sadness drags on for weeks. Hope is buried six feet under. But here are 12 free at-home treatments that can help with depression.


By Ilse Watson

Not everything in life goes perfectly all the time and that is okay. It is normal for people to have periods when they are feeling low, but depression is not that – it overshadows everything and sucks the joy out of life.

For some people, their depression is so severe, or life circumstances are so adverse, that having a positive outlook is impossible. Depressed people can rapidly slide deeper into a dark space. Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), or clinical depression, affects not only the person but also those close to them.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) at least 350 million people around the world live with depression. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) says that one in 10 people will suffer from depression at some time.

Who gets depression?

The specific causes of depression are multi-factorial and often result as a merging of several different factors.

“For some people, there is a genetic or family history of depression. This is often compounded by environmental and lifestyle stressors – for example, stressful relationships, unfulfilled work or substance abuse. Often, there is a background of trauma in that person’s life,” explains Dr Mike West, a Cape Town psychiatrist.

According to Dr Antoinette Miric, a psychiatrist from Johannesburg, people get depressed because certain areas in the brain (which control mood, sleep and appetite) are not functioning as they should. “People are born with a genetic vulnerability to developing depression. Sudden stressful events will result in the brain ‘not being able to cope’,” she says.

Medical illnesses, such as stroke, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, TB and others can trigger depression. Some medications or treatments can cause depression or make it worse.

Louise Bolton, a psychologist from Johannesburg, says: “One really does need to take note of the way you think. A depressed person can easily be overly self-critical, does not consider themselves worthy, feels inadequate in front of others, expects a worst-case scenario and they fear to get hurt or being vulnerable. They are incredibly hard to themselves.”

Signs and symptoms of depression

  1. Feeling sad, anxious or ’empty’ most of the time.
  2. A loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed.
  3. Feeling hopeless about life and feeling helpless or guilty.
  4. A depressed person experiences changes in sleeping habits – they sleep more than usual or sleep less.
  5. They gain a lot of weight or lose a lot.
  6. They feel slow or fatigued.
  7. They experience restlessness, irritability, anger and difficulty concentrating.

How is depression treated?

Although depression is a serious mental illness, selective serotonin (the happy hormone) re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs) are good treatments. Also, atypical and tricyclic antidepressants are prescribed.

“It is important to understand that antidepressants treat the symptoms of depression, but cannot always make a person completely better. Treatments for depression reduce the risk of suicidal thinking or suicidal behaviour but are not a panacea for a cure,” concludes Dr West.

However, there is no ‘one size fits all’ treatment for depression. What works for one person might not work for another.

According to an article, ‘Depression Treatment’, on the website http://www.helpguide.org, the best way to treat depression is to become as informed as possible about the treatment options and then tailor them to meet our needs. It takes time to find the right treatment. Other treatments include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy and psychodynamic therapy.
“Depressed people must make use of some pharmacological intervention and frequent appointments with a psychologist are of utmost importance,” says Bolton.

She concludes: “Very few depressed people have the resolve to get up and do something when nothing really matters anyway. Do anything that has the potential of creating a slight glimmer of hope, whether it is listening to music or looking at photos.”

At some point a depressed person will have to do things they really do not want to do – they need steps to ascend out of the depressive phase. It is likely to help if they could actually force themselves to do small tasks.

There is no single recipe for helping yourself when you are in a severe depressive phase. It is important that you want to create a first step that you can build the next little step on.

Family and friends

A person with major depressive disorder can’t ‘just snap out of it’. However, family and friends can display empathy and understanding and acknowledge that their loved one is going through a hard time.

Ask the depressed person what kind of support they would consider helpful as often well-intentioned family when trying to help them and to get them mobile, will only frustrate a depressed person and tire them out.

Family and friends shouldn’t press someone to make progress too fast. Listening, affection and caring provide a good start. Build enough rapport with them so that they will be willing to venture the next step with your support.

Although therapy and antidepressants are considered the most effective treatments for depression, Cassey Chambers, operations manager at the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), says there are 12 free at-home treatments that can also help:

  1. Follow a routine: Get out of bed and get dressed every day. Schedule time for relaxation – read, listen to music, paint or watch television. Remember the things you once enjoyed doing – even if you just spend 15 minutes doing these activities.
  2. Set goals: Keep them simple and realistic. It is possible that you are not well enough to do your daily tasks, but do what you can and don’t beat yourself up if you fail.
  3. Exercise: Any form of exercise, however small, is beneficial. Exercise gives you much needed ‘feel-good’ brain chemicals.
  4. Eat well and avoid unhealthy habits: Eat small snacks and not large meals. Drink lots of water. Water gives energy. Avoid drugs and alcohol.
  5. Get a good night’s sleep: If you have trouble sleeping, avoid exercise and caffeine after 17:00 and steer clear of non-prescription sleeping pills. If needed, ask your doctor for something to help you sleep.
  6. Educate yourself: Learn as much as you can about your illness. Give related books to friends and family so they can understand what you are experiencing.
  7. Keep a journal: Write your feelings down. It will help to put things into perspective.
  8. Don’t do anything rash: Avoid making big decisions, such as changing jobs or moving house, until you feel better.
  9. Honour achievements: Acknowledge the small goals you meet every day.
  10. Join a support group: It is liberating to go somewhere you can talk and no one judges. It also serves as a place to get great advice.
  11. Do volunteer work: Help others. Go to a school, hospital, an old age home or hospice and find out what they need. Remember that you are important in your community.
  12. Healing takes time: Don’t give up on treatment – it can take two to four weeks for antidepressants to have an effect on symptoms.

Fast facts on depression

  • Depression often starts at a young age and affects women more commonly than men.Depression is one of the most treatable mental illnesses and eight out of 10 people can fully recover.
  • Eighty percent of people with depression will make a good recovery on antidepressants; however, it takes two to four weeks for medications to start working.
  • One to two mothers out of 10 have depression after childbirth. Depression can also limit a mother’s capacity to care for her child, and can seriously affect the child’s growth and development.
  • Almost one million people worldwide take their own lives each year. For every person who commits suicide, there are 20 more who make an attempt.

[Sources: WHO and SADAG]

Alternative treatment for depression

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a procedure done under general anaesthesia, whereby small electric currents are sent through the brain, intentionally triggering a brief seizure. ECT seems to cause changes in brain chemistry that can quickly reverse symptoms of certain mental illnesses. It is an effective treatment for major depression that hasn’t responded to standard treatments.

Where to get help

If you need a referral to a psychologist, psychiatrist or support group, call the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) on 011-234-4837 or 0800-20-50-26 and speak to a trained counsellor who will help you.

Courtesy Natural Medicine Magazine, June 2017 Edition.

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