Living Well: Hope for depression, a common but treatable illness
Depression is something that is far more complex than a case of the blues — it’s a mental illness that can last for weeks, months or sometimes years.
Those experiencing depression can’t just “snap out of it” — in fact, saying this to someone with depression can be extremely harmful, according to Psychology Today.
“Although there are known, effective treatments for depression, fewer than half of those affected in the world (in many countries, fewer than 10 percent) receive such treatments,” according to the World Health Organization. “Barriers to effective care include a lack of resources, lack of trained health-care providers and social stigma associated with mental disorders. Another barrier to effective care is inaccurate assessment.”
So, how do you know if you or a loved one is temporarily down in the dumps or suffering from depression? Symptoms vary from person to person, but generally, people who are depressed might experience hopelessness, a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, a loss of appetite or weight changes, irritability, sleep changes, lower energy, physical pain and reckless behavior, among others.
In Craig, Memorial Regional Health supports this issue by screening every patient for depression by asking a series of questions. MRH also offers behavioral health services including individual counseling and tele-psychiatry.
Depression is treatable
Depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide, according to the estimates from the World Health Organization released in 2018. The WHO also estimates that more than 300 million people are living with depression, which is an 18 percent increase since 2005.
“These new figures are a wake-up call for all countries to re-think their approaches to mental health and to treat it with the urgency that it deserves,” WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan said.
Depression involves an imbalance of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters and neuropeptides, according to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, which stressed that depression is not a character flaw or a sign of personal weakness.
“Just like you can’t ‘wish away’ diabetes, heart disease or any other physical illness, you can’t make depression go away by trying to ‘snap out of it,’” the alliance said.
Depression can run in families, but many people with the illness do not have a family history of it, adding to some of depression’s mystery. Research has proven that both genetics and a stressful life event or situation contribute to depression.
Treating depression is most effective when it begins early on. Treatment includes antidepressant medications, talk therapy or, often, a combination of the two.
Anyone who thinks he or she might have depression should first talk to a health provider — either a primary care physician or a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, talking to a primary physician is important because he or she can rule out other causes, such as medications, that could cause the same symptoms as depression.
“If the doctor can find no medical condition that may be causing the depression, the next step is a psychological evaluation,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
At its worst, depression can lead to suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds, according to the World Health Organization. Close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year.
While young people who are depressed may cry or be vocal about their feelings, older people tend to be more stoic — even to the point of denying that they feel sad or depressed. This is especially true for older men, who have the highest suicide rate in the nation.
Suicide often occurs within a day, week or month of a doctor’s visit — especially one that reveals a challenging diagnosis. This is a key time to tune in and watch for signs of depression, including mood swings, anger outbursts, irritability and isolation. Sometimes the easiest way to notice is a change in sleeping or eating habits.
Working-aged men, between age 25 and 54, account for the largest number of suicide deaths in the United States, according to mantherapy.org, a website resource for men suffering from depression initiated by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Office of Suicide Prevention.
One reason for this is men’s general unwillingness to acknowledge mental health problems or seek help for them.
“While men die by suicide in much higher numbers than women, suggesting that men may be in greater need of mental health services, research finds that men appear far less interested in and likely to access services,” according to a collaborative white paper by the team behind Man Therapy.