Self-Help for Depression: Benefits and Limitations

Medical Reviewer

People consider self-help for depression for a variety of reasons. They may, for example, be embarrassed to admit they are experiencing problems. They are probably aware of free and readily available resources on the internet or in libraries. There may be cultural, gender, or relationship reasons preventing them from seeking help, or they may simply be drawn to self-help as something convenient and easy.

Key advantages of self-help

Self-help for depression could be a starting point to therapy, or it may follow more formal therapies. As a starting point the advantages are that self-help allows people to dip into the various approaches on offer. As a follow-on to previous treatment, it enables people to make use of a toolbox of skills and techniques they've previously been taught.

Where to find self-help for depressioWebsites_. Probably the most obvious place to start is by searching the internet. There are some tremendously useful resources available both in terms of information and support. Stay safe by looking for websites that provide the HoNcode. This holds web developers to a set of basic ethical standards and addresses issues of reliability and credibility of information.

Books. The great thing about books is that they can be marked, highlighted, re-read, and kept as a resource. Most are also accessible on mobile devices and e-readers. Some health specialists even prescribe certain books to their patients. Audio books can be played in the car and are especially useful for people with sight problems.

Online services. Computerized cognitive behavioral therapy (CCBT) can be just as effective as face-to-face meetings with a therapist. Depending on where you live, you may need to speak to your family doctor, or contact a psychologist to identify and access services. Online counseling can also be helpful, but be aware that these services may be unregulated, so always check the background of the service operator.

Phone and email services. While the mere thought of dealing face-to-face with a therapist is off-putting for some people, for others the issues may be more practical. If there is no therapist in the area, or if time commitments make it difficult to travel or commit to specific days and times, then phone or email counseling may be helpful. This is commonly the domain of private therapists, so do some careful checking about qualifications and backgrounds before you commit.

In summary, there are several forms of self-help available. Many are free or low-cost and in all cases there is no pressure or need for you to take medication. The fact that self-help can be tailored to your own needs at a time and pace you set is especially appealing for many people.

Limitations of self-help for depression

Perhaps the biggest hurdle in using self-help with depression is motivation. Depression eats away at motivation, so not only can it can be hard to get started, it is equally problematic to keep going. The negative thinking side of depression will challenge you over the worth of what you are doing. You may find it all too easy to become cynical and disinterested.

More severe forms of depression are less likely to benefit from a self-help approach. Major depression really does require some form of intervention, probably in the form of medication and some type of talk therapy.

The truth is, self-help doesn’t work for everyone. Some patients will consider the approach as too simple, or too formulaic, while others view the self-help market itself as little more than a scam. You only need to type "does self-help work" into any search engine and you’ll quickly find the naysayers. Keep in mind, though, that self-help is a very broad term covering a wide range of issues and activities.

Whether you embark on a self-help journey for your depression, or seek out more structured forms of therapy, the goal of either approach is for you to become more independent. Truly successful therapists are those that can make themselves obsolete. We can be our own therapists and we can succeed, but there is no shame in reaching out to others if we find it too hard to cope.

See More Helpful Articles:

10 Ways to Cope With Your Depression Partner’s Depression

Mild, Moderate or Severe Depression: How to Tell the Difference

6 Behavior Changes During Depression

10 Communication Barriers When Dealing With a Depressed Person

Dr. Jerry Kennard is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry's clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of