Approximately 15 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with a major depressive disorder in their lifetime, which means that they will have at least one major depressive episode lasting for two or more weeks.
Depression is more than having a case of the blues. It’s a serious medical illness just like diabetes or high blood pressure. In addition to feelings of extreme sadness, individuals experiencing depression often experience associated guilt, hopelessness or worthlessness as well as low energy, insomnia and problems with appetite. Many individuals with depression feel that life isn’t worth living and 15 percent of depressed patients will die by suicide.
It is very important for individuals experiencing symptoms of depression to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Urgent care may be needed if someone is having thoughts of suicide or is unable to care for themselves.
However, many individuals do not seek help for depression because of a lack of understanding of the nature of the disorder or a fear of stigmatization. Lack of timely treatment can be problematic because the longer someone is depressed, the less likely they are to recover from their depression. On the heels of Suicide Prevention Week and leading into National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month in October, now is a good time to step back and better understand depression and how it can be treated.
Depression may include any or all of these symptoms:
• Persistent sadness, fearfulness or feeling “down in the dumps”
• Lack of interest in usual activities
• Feelings of guilt, hopelessness or worthlessness
• Having low energy, insomnia and problems with appetite.
A good starting point for people experiencing symptoms involves a visit to their primary care physician, who can evaluate them and determine if their symptoms of depression are due to certain medical problems. For example, thyroid disease and heart disease can lead to symptoms of depression.
After being evaluated medically, individuals can be started on a number of treatments including antidepressant medications, group or individual psychotherapy. Antidepressant medications are commonly used in America today and are generally safe and well tolerated. They need to be taken daily in most cases and will have an effect after six to eight weeks or more of treatment, although some individuals may respond quicker. Most guidelines recommend that antidepressants be continued for a period of at least six months to one year before consideration is given to discontinue or pursue maintenance treatment.
Psychotherapy involves talking with a trained therapist about problems in life and processing through them. Therapy can help individuals develop insight, work on relationships in life, or learn coping skills to better manage the symptoms of their illness.
Depression can be a recurrent condition that requires continued monitoring and treatment. For individuals who have already experienced one episode of depression, there is a 50 percent chance of having a second episode. If someone has experienced two lifetime episodes, there is a 75 percent chance of having a third. Treatments are effective and can improve symptoms and prevent future episodes.
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of depression, please consult with a doctor or other health care professional.