Depression - Prevention

The prevention of depression should focus on reducing any risk factors, and encouraging the development of protective behaviour, for example developing effective coping mechanisms to deal with life's stressors.[1]

Some believe that the focus of prevention efforts should be the younger population, when depression has not yet restricted their life choices or caused other potential problems.[1]

Medications are not considered an appropriate approach to preventing depression in those who do not have any symptoms.[2]

Methods that may hold promise in the prevention of depression include the following:


Evidence suggests that taking regular exercise can help to protect against depression. Exercise such as running, for example, has been shown to increase the development of nerveBundle of fibres that carries information in the form of electrical impulses. cells ('neurogenesis') in the hippocampus and may increase levels of the neurotransmitterA chemical that helps the communication between nerve cells (neurons). serotonin within the brain. Exercise has actually been shown to be beneficial as an antidepressant, and to reduce anxiety levels.[2,3]

Exercise has been shown to improve mood among those who are not depressed, as well as improving mood among those who are.[2]


Diet may also have a role in raising brain serotonin. Tryptophan is a type of 'amino acidAn organic compound that is the basic building block of all proteins.', that is, a substance that the body uses to make proteins, that is present in the diet. Tryptophan has been shown to increase the levels of the neurotransmitterA chemical that helps the communication between nerve cells (neurons). serotonin within the brain, and is also effective as an antidepressant treatment for people with mild-to-moderate depression.[2]

Positive mood induction

One study scanned the brains of participants using an imaging technique called 'positron emission tomography'. While they were having their brains scanned, the people in the study purposefully had positive, negative or neutral thoughts. It was found that among those with positive mood inductions, higher levels of serotonin were produced in part of the brain.[2]

This suggests that, while serotonin appears to elevate mood levels, happy thoughts can actually cause elevations in serotonin.[2]

Bright light

Bright light is understood to be effective in the treatment of seasonal effective disorder, a type of depression that is seasonal and occurs most commonly during the winter months. However, bright light may also increase serotonin levels in the brain among those who do not have seasonal effective disorder. It seems that serotonin levels are higher when there are more hours of daylight in the day.[2]

These findings have led to the development of lamps designed for seasonal affective disorder, and the opening of special light cafés in Scandinavia and the UK.[2]

Cognitive behavioural therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a type of therapy that helps people to address the way they think about themselves and their surroundings, and understand how their behaviour affects their thoughts.[1]

Studies have shown that cognitive behavioural therapy, delivered by clinical psychologists, can help to prevent depressive symptoms among young people. However, this may not be a feasible approach in 'the real world', as in practice there may not be enough clinical psychologists who are trained to deliver this therapy.[1]In some countries computerised cognitive behavioural therapy is available.


  1. Andrews G and Wilkinson DD. The prevention of mental disorders in young people. MJA 2002; 177: S97-100.
  2. Young SN. How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. J Psychiatry Neurosci 2007; 32: 394-9.
  3. Brené S, Bjørnebekk A, Åberg E et al. Running is rewarding and antidepressive. Physiol Behav 2007; 92: 136-40.