Each recommendation is identified as falling into one of three categories of endorsement, indicated by a bracketed Roman numeral following the statement. Definitions of the categories of endorsement are provided at the end of the "Major Recommendations" field.
Psychiatric management consists of a broad array of interventions and activities that psychiatrists should initiate and continue to provide to patients with major depressive disorder through all phases of treatment [I].
Establish and Maintain a Therapeutic Alliance
In establishing and maintaining a therapeutic alliance, it is important to collaborate with the patient in decision making and attend to the patient's preferences and concerns about treatment [I]. Management of the therapeutic alliance should include awareness of transference and counter-transference issues, even if these are not directly addressed in treatment [II]. Severe or persistent problems of poor alliance or nonadherence to treatment may be caused by the depressive symptoms themselves or may represent psychological conflicts or psychopathology for which psychotherapy should be considered [II].
Complete the Psychiatric Assessment
Patients should receive a thorough diagnostic assessment in order to establish the diagnosis of major depressive disorder, identify other psychiatric or general medical conditions that may require attention, and develop a comprehensive plan for treatment [I]. This evaluation generally includes a history of the present illness and current symptoms; a psychiatric history, including identification of past symptoms of mania, hypomania, or mixed episodes and responses to previous treatments; a general medical history; a personal history including information about psychological development and responses to life transitions and major life events; a social, occupational, and family history (including mood disorders and suicide); review of the patient's prescribed and over-the-counter medications; a review of systems; a mental status examination; a physical examination; and appropriate diagnostic tests as indicated to rule out possible general medical causes of depressive symptoms [I]. Assessment of substance use should evaluate past and current use of illicit drugs and other substances that may trigger or exacerbate depressive symptoms [I].
Evaluate the Safety of the Patient
A careful and ongoing evaluation of suicide risk is necessary for all patients with major depressive disorder [I]. Such an assessment includes specific inquiry about suicidal thoughts, intent, plans, means, and behaviors; identification of specific psychiatric symptoms (e.g., psychosis, severe anxiety, substance use) or general medical conditions that may increase the likelihood of acting on suicidal ideas; assessment of past and, particularly, recent suicidal behavior; delineation of current stressors and potential protective factors (e.g., positive reasons for living, strong social support); and identification of any family history of suicide or mental illness [I]. In addition to assessing suicide risk per se, it is important to assess the patient's level of self-care, hydration, and nutrition, each of which can be compromised by severe depressive symptoms [I]. As part of the assessment process, impulsivity and potential for risk to others should also be evaluated, including any history of violence or violent or homicidal ideas, plans, or intentions [I]. An evaluation of the impact of the depression on the patient's ability to care for dependents is an important component of the safety evaluation [I]. The patient's risk of harm to him- or herself and to others should also be monitored as treatment proceeds [I].
Establish the Appropriate Setting for Treatment
The psychiatrist should determine the least restrictive setting for treatment that will be most likely not only to address the patient's safety, but also to promote improvement in the patient's condition [I]. The determination of an appropriate setting for treatment should include consideration of the patient's symptom severity, co-occurring psychiatric or general medical conditions, available support system, and level of functioning [I]. The determination of a treatment setting should also include consideration of the patient's ability to adequately care for him- or herself, to provide reliable feedback to the psychiatrist, and to cooperate with treatment of the major depressive disorder [I]. Measures such as hospitalization should be considered for patients who pose a serious threat of harm to themselves or others [I]. Patients who refuse inpatient treatment can be hospitalized involuntarily if their condition meets the criteria of the local jurisdiction for involuntary admission [I]. Admission to a hospital or, if available, an intensive day program, may also be indicated for severely ill patients who lack adequate social support outside of a hospital setting, who have complicating psychiatric or general medical conditions, or who have not responded adequately to outpatient treatment [I]. The optimal treatment setting and the patient’s likelihood of benefit from a different level of care should be reevaluated on an ongoing basis throughout the course of treatment [I].
Evaluate Functional Impairment and Quality of Life
Major depressive disorder can alter functioning in numerous spheres of life including work, school, family, social relationships, leisure activities, or maintenance of health and hygiene. The psychiatrist should evaluate the patient's activity in each of these domains and determine the presence, type, severity, and chronicity of any dysfunction [I]. In developing a treatment plan, interventions should be aimed at maximizing the patient's level of functioning as well as helping the patient to set specific goals appropriate to his or her functional impairments and symptom severity [I].
Coordinate the Patient's Care with Other Clinicians
Many patients with major depressive disorder will be evaluated by or receive treatment from other health care professionals in addition to the psychiatrist. If more than one clinician is involved in providing the care, all treating clinicians should have sufficient ongoing contact with the patient and with each other to ensure that care is coordinated, relevant information is available to guide treatment decisions, and treatments are synchronized [I].
In ruling out general medical causes of depressive symptoms, it is important to ensure that a general medical evaluation has been done [I], either by the psychiatrist or by another health care professional. Extensive or specialized testing for general medical causes of depressive symptoms may be conducted based on individual characteristics of the patient [III].
Monitor the Patient's Psychiatric Status
The patient's response to treatment should be carefully monitored [I]. Continued monitoring of co-occurring psychiatric and/or medical conditions is also essential to developing and refining a treatment plan for an individual patient [I].
Integrate Measurements into Psychiatric Management
Tailoring the treatment plan to match the needs of the particular patient requires a careful and systematic assessment of the type, frequency, and magnitude of psychiatric symptoms as well as ongoing determination of the therapeutic benefits and side effects of treatment [I]. Such assessments can be facilitated by integrating clinician- and/or patient-administered rating scale measurements into initial and ongoing evaluation [II].
Enhance Treatment Adherence
The psychiatrist should assess and acknowledge potential barriers to treatment adherence (e.g., lack of motivation or excessive pessimism due to depression; side effects of treatment; problems in the therapeutic relationship; logistical, economic, or cultural barriers to treatment) and collaborate with the patient (and if possible, the family) to minimize the impact of these potential barriers [I]. In addition, the psychiatrist should encourage patients to articulate any fears or concerns about treatment or its side effects [I]. Patients should be given a realistic notion of what can be expected during the different phases of treatment, including the likely time course of symptom response and the importance of adherence for successful treatment and prophylaxis [I].
Provide Education to the Patient and the Family
Education about the symptoms and treatment of major depressive disorder should be provided in language that is readily understandable to the patient [I]. With the patient's permission, family members and others involved in the patient's day-to-day life may also benefit from education about the illness, its effects on functioning (including family and other interpersonal relationships), and its treatment [I]. Common misperceptions about antidepressants (e.g., they are addictive) should be clarified [I]. In addition, education about major depressive disorder should address the need for a full acute course of treatment, the risk of relapse, the early recognition of recurrent symptoms, and the need to seek treatment as early as possible to reduce the risk of complications or a full-blown episode of major depression [I]. Patients should also be told about the need to taper antidepressants, rather than discontinuing them precipitously, to minimize the risk of withdrawal symptoms or symptom recurrence [I]. Patient education also includes general promotion of healthy behaviors such as exercise, good sleep hygiene, good nutrition, and decreased use of tobacco, alcohol, and other potentially deleterious substances [I]. Educational tools such as books, pamphlets, and trusted web sites can augment the face-to-face education provided by the clinician [I].
Choice of an Initial Treatment Modality
Treatment in the acute phase should be aimed at inducing remission of the major depressive episode and achieving a full return to the patient's baseline level of functioning [I]. Acute phase treatment may include pharmacotherapy, depression-focused psychotherapy, the combination of medications and psychotherapy, or other somatic therapies such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), or light therapy, as described in the sections that follow. Selection of an initial treatment modality should be influenced by clinical features (e.g., severity of symptoms, presence of co-occurring disorders or psychosocial stressors) as well as other factors (e.g., patient preference, prior treatment experiences) [I]. Any treatment should be integrated with psychiatric management and any other treatments being provided for other diagnoses [I].
An antidepressant medication is recommended as an initial treatment choice for patients with mild to moderate major depressive disorder [I] and definitely should be provided for those with severe major depressive disorder unless ECT is planned [I]. Because the effectiveness of antidepressant medications is generally comparable between classes and within classes of medications, the initial selection of an antidepressant medication will largely be based on the anticipated side effects, the safety or tolerability of these side effects for the individual patient, pharmacological properties of the medication (e.g., half-life, actions on cytochrome P450 enzymes, other drug interactions), and additional factors such as medication response in prior episodes, cost, and patient preference [I]. For most patients, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI), mirtazapine, or bupropion is optimal [I]. In general, the use of nonselective monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) (e.g., phenelzine, tranylcypromine, isocarboxazid) should be restricted to patients who do not respond to other treatments [I], given the necessity for dietary restrictions with these medications and the potential for deleterious drug-drug interactions. In patients who prefer complementary and alternative therapies, S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe) [III] or St. John's wort [III] might be considered, although evidence for their efficacy is modest at best, and careful attention to drug-drug interactions is needed with St. John's wort [I].
Once an antidepressant medication has been initiated, the rate at which it is titrated to a full therapeutic dose should depend upon the patient's age, the treatment setting, and the presence of co-occurring illnesses, concomitant pharmacotherapy, or medication side effects [I]. During the acute phase of treatment, patients should be carefully and systematically monitored on a regular basis to assess their response to pharmacotherapy, identify the emergence of side effects (e.g., gastrointestinal symptoms, sedation, insomnia, activation, changes in weight, and cardiovascular, neurological, anticholinergic, or sexual side effects), and assess patient safety [I]. The frequency of patient monitoring should be determined based upon the patient's symptom severity (including suicidal ideas), co-occurring disorders (including general medical conditions), cooperation with treatment, availability of social supports, and the frequency and severity of side effects with the chosen treatment [II]. If antidepressant side effects do occur, an initial strategy is to lower the dose of the antidepressant or to change to an antidepressant that is not associated with that side effect [I].
Other Somatic Therapies
ECT is recommended as a treatment of choice for patients with severe major depressive disorder that is not responsive to psychotherapeutic and/or pharmacological interventions, particularly in those who have significant functional impairment or have not responded to numerous medication trials [I]. ECT is also recommended for individuals with major depressive disorder who have associated psychotic or catatonic features [I], for those with an urgent need for response (e.g., patients who are suicidal or nutritionally compromised due to refusal of food or fluids) [I], and for those who prefer ECT or have had a previous positive response to ECT [II].
Bright light therapy might be used to treat seasonal affective disorder as well as nonseasonal depression [III].
Use of a depression-focused psychotherapy alone is recommended as an initial treatment choice for patients with mild to moderate major depressive disorder [I], with clinical evidence supporting the use of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) [I], interpersonal psychotherapy [I], psychodynamic therapy [II], and problem-solving therapy [III] in individual [I] and in group [III] formats. Factors that may suggest the use of psychotherapeutic interventions include the presence of significant psychosocial stressors, intrapsychic conflict, interpersonal difficulties, a co-occurring axis II disorder, treatment availability, or—most important—patient preference [II]. In women who are pregnant, wish to become pregnant, or are breastfeeding, a depression-focused psychotherapy alone is recommended [II] and depending on the severity of symptoms, should be considered as an initial option [I]. Considerations in the choice of a specific type of psychotherapy include the goals of treatment (in addition to resolving major depressive symptoms), prior positive response to a specific type of psychotherapy, patient preference, and the availability of clinicians skilled in the specific psychotherapeutic approach [II]. As with patients who are receiving pharmacotherapy, patients receiving psychotherapy should be carefully and systematically monitored on a regular basis to assess their response to treatment and assess patient safety [I]. When determining the frequency of psychotherapy sessions for an individual patient, the psychiatrist should consider multiple factors, including the specific type and goals of psychotherapy, symptom severity (including suicidal ideas), co-occurring disorders, cooperation with treatment, availability of social supports, and the frequency of visits necessary to create and maintain a therapeutic relationship, ensure treatment adherence, and monitor and address depressive symptoms and suicide risk [II]. Marital and family problems are common in the course of major depressive disorder, and such problems should be identified and addressed, using marital or family therapy when indicated [II].
Psychotherapy Plus Antidepressant Medication
The combination of psychotherapy and antidepressant medication may be used as an initial treatment for patients with moderate to severe major depressive disorder [I]. In addition, combining psychotherapy and medication may be a useful initial treatment even in milder cases for patients with psychosocial or interpersonal problems, intrapsychic conflict, or co-occurring Axis II disorder [II]. In general, when choosing an antidepressant or psychotherapeutic approach for combination treatment, the same issues should be considered as when selecting a medication or psychotherapy for use alone [I].
Assessing the Adequacy of Treatment Response
In assessing the adequacy of a therapeutic intervention, it is important to establish that treatment has been administered for a sufficient duration and at a sufficient frequency or, in the case of medication, dose [I]. Onset of benefit from psychotherapy tends to be a bit more gradual than that from medication, but no treatment should continue unmodified if there has been no symptomatic improvement after 1 month [I]. Generally, 4–8 weeks of treatment are needed before concluding that a patient is partially responsive or unresponsive to a specific intervention [II].
Strategies to Address Nonresponse
For individuals who have not responded fully to treatment, the acute phase of treatment should not be concluded prematurely [I], as an incomplete response to treatment is often associated with poor functional outcomes. If at least a moderate improvement in symptoms is not observed within 4–8 weeks of treatment initiation, the diagnosis should be reappraised, side effects assessed, complicating co-occurring conditions and psychosocial factors reviewed, and the treatment plan adjusted [I]. It is also important to assess the quality of the therapeutic alliance and treatment adherence [I]. For patients in psychotherapy, additional factors to be assessed include the frequency of sessions and whether the specific approach to psychotherapy is adequately addressing the patient's needs [I]. If medications are prescribed, the psychiatrist should determine whether pharmacokinetic [I] or pharmacodynamic [III] factors suggest a need to adjust medication doses. With some TCAs, a drug blood level can help determine if additional dose adjustments are required [I].
After an additional 4–8 weeks of treatment, if the patient continues to show minimal or no improvement in symptoms, the psychiatrist should conduct another thorough review of possible contributory factors and make additional changes in the treatment plan [I]. Consultation should also be considered [II].
A number of strategies are available when a change in the treatment plan seems necessary. For patients treated with an antidepressant, optimizing the medication dose is a reasonable first step if the side effect burden is tolerable and the upper limit of a medication dose has not been reached [II]. Particularly for those who have shown minimal improvement or experienced significant medication side effects, other options include augmenting the antidepressant with a depression-focused psychotherapy [I] or with other agents [II] or changing to another non-MAOI antidepressant [I]. Patients may be changed to an antidepressant from the same pharmacological class (e.g., from one SSRI to another SSRI) or to one from a different class (e.g., from an SSRI to a tricyclic antidepressant [TCA]) [II]. For patients who have not responded to trials of SSRIs, a trial of an SNRI may be helpful [II]. Augmentation of antidepressant medications can utilize another non-MAOI antidepressant [II], generally from a different pharmacological class, or a non-antidepressant medication such as lithium [II], thyroid hormone [II], or a second-generation antipsychotic [II]. Additional strategies with less evidence for efficacy include augmentation using an anticonvulsant [III], omega-3 fatty acids [III], folate [III], or a psychostimulant medication [III], including modafinil [III]. If anxiety or insomnia are prominent features, consideration can be given to anxiolytic and sedative-hypnotic medications [III], including buspirone, benzodiazepines, and selective gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) agonist hypnotics (e.g., zolpidem, eszopiclone). For patients whose symptoms have not responded adequately to medication, ECT remains the most effective form of therapy and should be considered [I]. In patients capable of adhering to dietary and medication restrictions, an additional option is changing to a nonselective MAOI [II] after allowing sufficient time between medications to avoid deleterious interactions [I]. Transdermal selegiline, a relatively selective MAO B inhibitor with fewer dietary and medication restrictions, or transcranial magnetic stimulation could also be considered [II]. Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) may be an additional option for individuals who have not responded to at least four adequate trials of antidepressant treatment, including ECT [III].
For patients treated with psychotherapy, consideration should be given to increasing the intensity of treatment or changing the type of therapy [II]. If psychotherapy is used alone, the possible need for medications in addition to or in lieu of psychotherapy should be assessed [I]. Patients who have a history of poor treatment adherence or incomplete response to adequate trials of single treatment modalities may benefit from combined treatment with medication and a depression-focused psychotherapy [II].
During the continuation phase of treatment, the patient should be carefully monitored for signs of possible relapse [I]. Systematic assessment of symptoms, side effects, adherence, and functional status is essential [I] and may be facilitated through the use of clinician- and/or patient-administered rating scales [II]. To reduce the risk of relapse, patients who have been treated successfully with antidepressant medications in the acute phase should continue treatment with these agents for 4–9 months [I]. In general, the dose used in the acute phase should be used in the continuation phase [II]. To prevent a relapse of depression in the continuation phase, depression-focused psychotherapy is recommended [I], with the best evidence available for cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Patients who respond to an acute course of ECT should receive continuation pharmacotherapy [I], with the best evidence available for the combination of lithium and nortriptyline. Alternatively, patients who have responded to an acute course of ECT may be given continuation ECT, particularly if medication or psychotherapy has been ineffective in maintaining remission [II].
In order to reduce the risk of a recurrent depressive episode, patients who have had three or more prior major depressive episodes or who have chronic major depressive disorder should proceed to the maintenance phase of treatment after completing the continuation phase [I]. Maintenance therapy should also be considered for patients with additional risk factors for recurrence, such as the presence of residual symptoms, ongoing psychosocial stressors, early age at onset, and family history of mood disorders [II]. Additional considerations that may play a role in the decision to use maintenance therapy include patient preference, the type of treatment received, the presence of side effects during continuation therapy, the probability of recurrence, the frequency and severity of prior depressive episodes (including factors such as psychosis or suicide risk), the persistence of depressive symptoms after recovery, and the presence of co-occurring disorders [II]. Such factors also contribute to decisions about the duration of the maintenance phase [II]. For many patients, particularly for those with chronic and recurrent major depressive disorder or co-occurring medical and/or psychiatric disorders, some form of maintenance treatment will be required indefinitely [I].
During the maintenance phase, an antidepressant medication that produced symptom remission during the acute phase and maintained remission during the continuation phase should be continued at a full therapeutic dose [II]. If a depression-focused psychotherapy has been used during the acute and continuation phases of treatment, maintenance treatment should be considered, with a reduced frequency of sessions [II]. For patients whose depressive episodes have not previously responded to acute or continuation treatment with medications or a depression-focused psychotherapy but who have shown a response to ECT, maintenance ECT may be considered [III]. Maintenance treatment with vagus nerve stimulation is also appropriate for individuals whose symptoms have responded to this treatment modality [III].
Due to the risk of recurrence, patients should be monitored systematically and at regular intervals during the maintenance phase [I]. Use of standardized measurement aids in the early detection of recurrent symptoms [II].
Discontinuation of Treatment
When pharmacotherapy is being discontinued, it is best to taper the medication over the course of at least several weeks [I]. To minimize the likelihood of discontinuation symptoms, patients should be advised not to stop medications abruptly and to take medications with them when they travel or are away from home [I]. A slow taper or temporary change to a longer half-life antidepressant may reduce the risk of discontinuation syndrome [II] when discontinuing antidepressants or reducing antidepressant doses. Before the discontinuation of active treatment, patients should be informed of the potential for a depressive relapse and a plan should be established for seeking treatment in the event of recurrent symptoms [I]. After discontinuation of medications, patients should continue to be monitored over the next several months and should receive another course of adequate acute phase treatment if symptoms recur [I].
For patients receiving psychotherapy, it is important to raise the issue of treatment discontinuation well in advance of the final session [I], although the exact process by which this occurs will vary with the type of therapy.
Clinical Factors Influencing Treatment
For suicidal patients, psychiatrists should consider an increased intensity of treatment, including hospitalization when warranted [I] and/or combined treatment with pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy [II]. Factors to consider in determining the nature and intensity of treatment include (but are not limited to) the nature of the doctor-patient alliance, the availability and adequacy of social supports, access to and lethality of suicide means, the presence of a co-occurring substance use disorder, and past and family history of suicidal behavior [I].
For patients who exhibit psychotic symptoms during an episode of major depressive disorder, treatment should include a combination of antipsychotic and antidepressant medications or ECT [I]. When patients exhibit cognitive dysfunction during a major depressive episode, they may have an increased likelihood of future dementia, making it important to assess cognition in a systematic fashion over the course of treatment [I].
Catatonic features that occur as part of a major depressive episode should be treated with a benzodiazepine [I] or barbiturate [II], typically in conjunction with an antidepressant [II]. If catatonic symptoms persist, ECT is recommended [I]. To reduce the likelihood of general medical complications, patients with catatonia may also require supportive medical interventions, such as hydration, nutritional support, prophylaxis against deep vein thrombosis, turning to reduce risks of decubitus ulcers, and passive range of motion to reduce risk of contractures [I]. If antipsychotic medication is needed, it is important to monitor for signs of neuroleptic malignant syndrome, to which patients with catatonia may have a heightened sensitivity [II].
When patients with a major depressive disorder also have a co-occurring psychiatric illness, the clinician should address each disorder as part of the treatment plan [I]. Benzodiazepines may be used adjunctively in individuals with major depressive disorder and co-occurring anxiety [II], although these agents do not treat depressive symptoms, and careful selection and monitoring is needed in individuals with co-occurring substance use disorders [I].
In patients who smoke, bupropion [I] or nortriptyline [II] may be options to simultaneously treat depression and assist with smoking cessation. When possible, a period of substance abstinence can help determine whether the depressive episode is related to substance intoxication or withdrawal [II]. Factors that suggest a need for antidepressant treatment soon after cessation of substance use include a family history of major depressive disorder and a history of major depressive disorder preceding the onset of the substance use disorder or during periods of sobriety [II].
For patients who have a personality disorder as well as major depressive disorder, psychiatrists should institute treatment for the major depressive disorder [I] and consider psychotherapeutic and adjunctive pharmacotherapeutic treatment for personality disorder symptoms [II].
Demographic and Psychosocial Factors
Several aspects of assessment and treatment differ between women and men. Because the symptoms of some women may fluctuate with gonadal hormone levels, the evaluation should include a detailed assessment of mood changes across the reproductive life history (e.g., menstruation, pregnancy, birth control including oral contraception use, abortions, menopause) [I]. When prescribing medications to women who are taking oral contraceptives, the potential effects of drug-drug interactions must be considered [I]. For women in the perimenopausal period, SSRI and SNRI antidepressants are useful in ameliorating depression as well as in reducing somatic symptoms such as hot flashes [II]. Both men and women who are taking antidepressants should be asked whether sexual side effects are occurring with these medications [I]. Men for whom trazodone is prescribed should be warned of the risk of priapism [I].
The treatment of major depressive disorder in women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant requires a careful consideration of the benefits and risks of available treatment options for the patient and the fetus [I]. For women who are currently receiving treatment for depression, a pregnancy should be planned, whenever possible, in consultation with the treating psychiatrist, who may wish to consult with a specialist in perinatal psychiatry [I]. In women who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breast-feeding, depression-focused psychotherapy alone is recommended [II] and should always be considered as an initial option, particularly for mild to moderate depression, for patients who prefer psychotherapy, or for those with a prior positive response to psychotherapy [I]. Antidepressant medication should be considered for pregnant women who have moderate to severe major depressive disorder as well as for those who are in remission from major depressive disorder, are receiving maintenance medication, and are deemed to be at high risk for a recurrence if the medication is discontinued [II]. When antidepressants are prescribed to a pregnant woman, changes in pharmacokinetics during pregnancy may require adjustments in medication doses [I]. Electroconvulsive therapy may be considered for the treatment of depression during pregnancy in patients who have psychotic or catatonic features, whose symptoms are severe or have not responded to medications, or who prefer treatment with ECT [II]. When a woman decides to nurse, the potential benefits of antidepressant medications for the mother should be balanced against the potential risks to the newborn from receiving antidepressant in the mother's milk [I]. For women who are depressed during the postpartum period, it is important to evaluate for the presence of suicidal ideas, homicidal ideas, and psychotic symptoms [I]. The evaluation should also assess parenting skills for the newborn and for other children in the patient's care [I].
In individuals with late-life depression, identification of co-occurring general medical conditions is essential, as these disorders may mimic depression or affect choice or dosing of medications [I]. Older individuals may also be particularly sensitive to medication side effects (e.g., hypotension, anticholinergic effects) and require adjustment of medication doses for hepatic or renal dysfunction [I]. In other respects, treatment for depression should parallel that used in younger age groups [I].
The assessment and treatment of major depressive disorder should consider the impact of language barriers, as well as cultural variables that may influence symptom presentation, treatment preferences, and the degree to which psychiatric illness is stigmatized [I]. When antidepressants are prescribed, the psychiatrist should recognize that ethnic groups may differ in their metabolism and response to medications [II].
Issues relating to the family situation and family history, including mood disorders and suicide, can also affect treatment planning and are an important element of the initial evaluation [I]. A family history of bipolar disorder or acute psychosis suggests a need for increased attention to possible signs of bipolar illness in the patient (e.g., with antidepressant treatment) [I]. A family history of recurrent major depressive disorder increases the likelihood of recurrent episodes in the patient and supports a need for maintenance treatment [II]. Family history of a response to a particular antidepressant may sometimes help in choosing a specific antidepressant for the patient [III]. Because problems within the family may become an ongoing stressor that hampers the patient's response to treatment, and because depression in a family is a major stress in itself, such factors should be identified and strong consideration given to educating the family about the nature of the illness, enlisting the family's support, and providing family therapy, when indicated [II].
For patients who have experienced a recent bereavement, psychotherapy or antidepressant treatment should be used when the reaction to a loss is particularly prolonged or accompanied by significant psychopathology and functional impairment [I]. Support groups may be helpful for some bereaved individuals [III].
Co-occurring General Medical Conditions
In patients with major depressive disorder, it is important to recognize and address the potential interplay between major depressive disorder and any co-occurring general medical conditions [I]. Communication with other clinicians who are providing treatment for general medical conditions is recommended [I]. The clinical assessment should include identifying any potential interactions between medications used to treat depression and those used to treat general medical conditions [I]. Assessment of pain is also important as it can contribute to and co-occur with depression [I]. In addition, the psychiatrist should consider the effects of prescribed psychotropic medications on the patient's general medical conditions, as well as the effects of interventions for such disorders on the patient's psychiatric condition [I].
In patients with preexisting hypertension or cardiac conditions, treatment with specific antidepressant agents may suggest a need for monitoring of vital signs or cardiac rhythm (e.g., electrocardiogram [ECG] with TCA treatment; heart rate and blood pressure assessment with SNRIs and TCAs) [I]. When using antidepressant medications with anticholinergic side effects, it is important to consider the potential for increases in heart rate in individuals with cardiac disease, worsening cognition in individuals with dementia, development of bladder outlet obstruction in men with prostatic hypertrophy, and precipitation or worsening of narrow angle glaucoma [I]. Some antidepressant drugs (e.g., bupropion, clomipramine, maprotiline) reduce the seizure threshold and should be used with caution in individuals with preexisting seizure disorders [II]. In individuals with Parkinson's disease, the choice of an antidepressant should consider that serotonergic agents may worsen symptoms of the disease [II], that bupropion has potential dopamine agonist effects (benefitting symptoms of Parkinson's disease but potentially worsening psychosis) [II], and that selegiline has antiparkinsonian and antidepressant effects but may interact with L-dopa and with other antidepressant agents [I]. In treating the depressive syndrome that commonly occurs following a stroke, consideration should be given to the potential for interactions between antidepressants and anticoagulating (including antiplatelet) medications [I]. Given the health risks associated with obesity and the tendency of some antidepressant medications to contribute to weight gain, longitudinal monitoring of weight (either by direct measurement or patient report) is recommended [I], as well as calculation of body mass index (BMI) [II]. If significant increases are noted in the patient's weight or BMI, the clinician and patient should discuss potential approaches to weight control such as diet, exercise, change in medication, nutrition consultation, or collaboration with the patient's primary care physician [I]. In patients who have undergone bariatric surgery to treat obesity, adjustment of medication formulations or doses may be required because of altered medication absorption [I]. For diabetic patients, it is useful to collaborate with the patient's primary care physician in monitoring diabetic control when initiating antidepressant therapy or making significant dosing adjustments [II]. Clinicians should be alert to the possibility of sleep apnea in patients with depression, particularly those who present with daytime sleepiness, fatigue, or treatment-resistant symptoms [II]. In patients with known sleep apnea, treatment choice should consider the sedative side effects of medication, with minimally sedating options chosen whenever possible [I]. Given the significant numbers of individuals with unrecognized human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection and the availability of effective treatment, consideration should be given to HIV risk assessment and screening [I]. For patients with HIV infection who are receiving antiretroviral therapy, the potential for drug-drug interactions needs to be assessed before initiating any psychotropic medications [I]. Patients who are being treated with antiretroviral medications should be cautioned about drug-drug interactions with St. John's wort that can reduce the effectiveness of HIV treatments [I]. In patients with hepatitis C infection, interferon can exacerbate depressive symptoms, making it important to monitor patients carefully for worsening depressive symptoms during the course of interferon treatment [I]. Because tamoxifen requires active 2D6 enzyme function to be clinically efficacious, patients who receive tamoxifen for breast cancer or other indications should generally be treated with an antidepressant (e.g., citalopram, escitalopram, venlafaxine, desvenlafaxine) that has minimal effect on metabolism through the cytochrome P450 2D6 isoenzyme [I]. When depression occurs in the context of chronic pain, SNRIs and TCAs may be preferable to other antidepressive agents [II]. When ECT is used to treat major depressive disorder in an individual with a co-occurring general medical condition, the evaluation should identify conditions that could require modifications in ECT technique (e.g., cardiac conditions, hypertension, central nervous system lesions) [I]; these should be addressed insofar as possible and discussed with the patient as part of the informed consent process [I].
Categories of Endorsement
[I] Recommended with substantial clinical confidence.
[II] Recommended with moderate clinical confidence.
[III] May be recommended on the basis of individual circumstances.