Daylight for depression


The National Institute of Mental Health has found that more than twice as many women as men suffer from clinical depression. Twenty-five percent of women and ten percent of men suffer one or more episodes of clinical depression during their lifetimes.

Clinical depression is a serious medical illness affecting millions of Americans. Each year, more than 11 million people suffer from this illness. Many people go through life suffering from clinical depression, without understanding that it is an illness. Effective treatments are available. Too often, the illness has carried with it fear and shame, thus preventing people from asking basic questions about its causes and treatments.

These numbers, however, may not tell the whole story. Some researchers believe women are more likely than men to admit their symptoms and seek treatment for clinical depression. Furthermore, even if men recognize their symptoms of clinical depression, many view the illness as a personal weakness to be handled alone with a "stiff upper lip." Others ignore their symptoms or cope with their suffering by abusing alcohol, drugs or both.

People of all ages are struck by clinical depression. The usual ages range from 24 to 44. Yet, certain other age groups are also at risk. For example, the high school and college-age population suffer high rates of clinical depression. Many parents and teachers do not recognize the illness because its symptoms may resemble normal teenage problems. The most common symptoms are changes in mood, irritability, risk-taking behavior and troubles with friends or school work. However, if it is undiagnosed and untreated, some young people with severe clinical depression may become vulnerable to suicide. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among people between the ages of 15 to 24.

Senior citizens frequently suffer from clinical depression. Their sad moods, fatigue and withdrawal from life are often mistaken as a normal part of the aging process. For many senior citizens, clinical depression is linked to death ofa spouse, admission to a nursing home, prolonged illness, or a major operation, such as heart surgery. The elderly depressed are at a higher risk for suicide than younger depressed people.

People who suffer from depression are relieved when they learn the facts about this illness. They are also relieved to know medical research has produced effective new medications for treatment. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 80 percent of people with depression can be treated successfully. Medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both are recommended.

Clinical depression is a treatable illness. Medical science knows more about it today than ever before. It is not just "the blues" or a "character flaw." Clinical depression is a serious medical illness that causes persistent changes in mood, behavior and feelings. If no treatment is sought, the episode can last nine months to a year; it will probably recur during a person's lifetime.

This illness interferes with and disrupts a person's job and family life. No amount of exercise, vitamins or vacation causes depression to disappear. Proper treatment is required.

Clinical depression differs greatly among people, both in severity and length of time. Some people suffer only one episode of clinical depression during their lifetime. Others experience recurring episodes. There are two basic types of clinical depression. They are:

Major depression, called "Unipolar" depression. This illness is identified by sad and hopeless feelings; slowed behavior, changes in weight or appetite and sleeping patterns; loss of interest in friends and activities; and thoughts of death and suicide.
Manic depression, called "bipolar depression." This illness causes alternate cycles of depression or manic elation. During a manic phase, some or all of the following symptoms often appear:
a. Increased energy and decreased need for sleep;

b. Inappropriate excitement or irritability;

c. Increased talking or moving;

d. Promiscuous sexual behavior;

e. Disconnected and racing thoughts;

f. Impulsive behavior and poor judgment, such as spending sprees.

During a depressed phase, many symptoms of major depression are experienced.

Doctors have identified two additional types of clinical depression.

Dysthmia is like a low grade infection. It is a less severe form that keeps people from feeling good or enjoying life. People with this illness go through the motions of daily living, often with little pleasure or enthusiasm. This can last for years.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a depression that relates to the season. The brightness and duration of daylight are factors. Medical researchers link inadequate exposure of sunlight to depressed moods. These moods can be treated successfully by artificial light therapy and sometimes medication.
The death of a loved one, divorce, prolonged stress, or job loss may be causes of clinical depression. Clinical depression may be genetic.

Nine symptoms are noted in clinical depression. They are:

Feelings of sadness or irritability;
Loss of interest in sex and activities once enjoyed;
Changes in weight or appetite;
Changes in sleeping patterns;
Feeling guilty, hopeless, or worthless;
Inability to concentrate, remember things, or make decisions;
Fatigue or loss of energy;
Restlessness or decreased activity noticed by others;
Thoughts of suicide or death.
How is clinical depression treated? Effective treatment includes medication and psychotherapy, used singly or in combination. However, for more depressed individuals, medication is required generally. A complete examination by a doctor or a mental health specialist is necessary to make a correct diagnosis and to eliminate the possibility of other medical conditions.

Antidepressant medications were discovered in the 1950s. They have been used ever since to treat clinical depression. Researchers are learning more about the brain chemicals linked to the illness. New developments and improved medication with fewer side effects have alleviated suffering.

There are three principal categoriesof these medications, each working slightly differently; tricyclics, monoamine oxidase inhibitors and serotonin reuptake inhibitors. In addition, lithium and some anticonvulsants are used to treat manic depression. Patients are monitored when taking antidepressants to determine whether the right dosage is being ingested.

Patients are helped by discussing with the doctor: how the medication works; how long it takes to begin working; and what its side effects are. Side effects range from dry mouth to constipation to sexual dysfunction. A minimum of six months is the recommended time for a patient to take antidepressants.

Therapy is conducted by psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists and mental health counselors. Both cognitive therapy (negative thinking patterns) and interpersonal therapy (problems in personal relationships) are effective treatments. A patient can work to understand the illness, solve problems and manage stressful situations, avoiding another episode. Cognitive and interpersonal therapies are often sufficient. Some people with clinical depression will need long-term individual psychotherapy.

Recovery from clinical depression involves proper treatment, support and education. The most important steps to a person's recovery from clinical depression are to see a doctor and stick to a treatment plan of medication and therapy. That means taking the medication as prescribed and keeping all appointments with the doctor. Patient support groups are helpful during the recovery process. Education of clinical depression and its treatments is important.

The promising part of depression is that help is available. Recent advances in understanding how the mind and body interact have made it possible to treat mental illnesses. Here is a list of what to do:

Learn as much as you can about mental illnesses and their treatments. There is no substitute for becoming well-informed.
Contact your community mental health association for support groups and information on services and resources.
Seek help from trained professionals and accredited treatment centers.
Be patient and persistent. If you don't make contact with the right professional after one call, keep at it until you do.


By Lois Johnson

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