I don’t know if I have ever been depressed, but I have never been treated for depression. Like most of us, I have been upset, angry, sad, worried, and many other things, and these conditions might have concerned me at times. These are not necessarily the same as depression, which is a medical condition. Thankfully those feelings didn’t last more than maybe a week. As a Christian I feel my faith helps keep me both mentally and physically healthy, but if I did have a problem, where would I go?
On its web page, the American Psychiatric Association defines depression this way: “Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act.” Depression will strike about one in five American adults.
The good news, according to the APA, is “It is also treatable.” They add “depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.”
Most of us have had head colds. Like depression, a head cold is a medical condition. We usually don’t run to the doctor for a head cold because there are ways to self-treat a cold that usually work, or at least relieve the symptoms. If the symptoms become more severe or if the cold doesn’t go away, then it’s time for a doctor visit.
The first step for a person who thinks he or she might be depressed is to find out if the symptoms are indeed those of depression. Normal feelings of insecurity or sadness usually don’t last. If we know why we have them and can deal with that cause or causes we can relieve the symptoms and be back to our old happy selves. If we don’t know exactly why we have them a doctor visit might be a good idea.
A family doctor, confronted with a possible case of depression, should ask questions. If it’s apparent the patient is medically depressed,then a referral to a specialist is in order. There is no shame in seeking treatment for depression, just as there is no shame in seeking treatment for a cold that could turn into flu or pneumonia. The objective in each case should be to get well.
Again, according to the American Psychiatric Association, “Depression symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include: feeling sad or having a depressed mood; loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed; changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting; trouble sleeping or sleeping too much; loss of energy or increased fatigue; increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others); feeling worthless or guilty; difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions; thoughts of death or suicide.”
The association says symptoms must last at least two weeks for a diagnosis of depression.
The APA also notes medical conditions (e.g., thyroid problems, a brain tumor or vitamin deficiency) can mimic symptoms of depression so it is important to rule out general medical causes.
We hear a lot about depression during the holidays, but depression is a condition that can hit at any time of the year or any time during a person’s lifetime. Untreated depression can lead to some very serious consequences, so it is important to check it out.
That little Calypso song of a few years ago, “Don’t Worry; Be Happy,” is pretty good advice. Unfortunately it might not be that simple. If we have good relationships, manageable problems, and a healthy outlook, depression symptoms usually go away. If they don’t, then it’s time to seek help.
And help is available.
WARREN DOMKE is a columnist for the Pleasanton Express.