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Your Mental Health - The Big Ones, Part One: Depression
When someone begins to speak about mental health problems, the first two disorders that are usually discussed are depression and anxiety. Most people have heard of these
terms, for a very good reason. Anxiety and depression are the two most commonly seen problems by psychologists and others who work in the field of mental health
(more on those people in a future column). I would like to use this column to write a bit
about depression. First off, what is depression? In general, it is feeling down or sad for most of the day, more days than not. In addition, a person who is depressed often has changes
worthlessin appetite (it can go up or down), changes in sleep habits (up or down, as
well), loss of energy, feeling s ofness or guilt, problems concentrating, and a hard time enjoying things he or she enjoyed in the past (such as hobbies or spending time with
family). Having these feelings every once in a while is perfectly normal, but if you have them for more than a couple of weeks in a row and they are causing you to feel
distressed or have difficulty at work or school, you could be depressed. So what should you do if you think that you have depression? First off, realize that you
are not alone. The number of people in the U.S. who suffer from depression during any given year is about 14.8 million, or more than one out of every five people! Depression
is the leading cause of disability for people under 45 years old, and most people will find themselves being depressed at some point in their lives. Even while so many
people have depression, most (about 80%) don't seek treatment, either because they
don't know what to do or because they don't want to be thought of as "crazy." What steps should you take if you think you are depressed? A good first step is seeing your regular doctor. Since some other illnesses or medications can cause problems that
feel like depression, making sure you don't have any of those should be first on the list.
If it doesn't look like there is some other cause for your problems, then your doctor may refer you to a mental health provider (such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other
therapist) for an evaluation. In the case where there are not any mental health providers in your area, your regular doctor may decide that he can treat you himself. If
it turns out that you are depressed, there are several good treatments available.
The most popular treatment is the use of medications called SSRIs (selective serotonin
reuptake inhibitors), such as Paxil, Zoloft, and Prozac. These generally work well, although it may take trying out a couple different ones before you find the one that
works best for you. Only physicians (such as your regular doctor or a psychiatrist) can
prescribe medication. The other proven treatments for depression are two types of psychotherapy: interpersonal therapy (IPT) and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
While other types of therapies may be helpful for some people, only IPT and CBT are known to be work best in most cases. In almost all cases, your regular doctor would not
be able to provide this type of treatment, and would have to refer you to someone else.
So, should you do therapy or take medication? Research shows that a combination of
the two works best for most people, although some people may respond better to one or the other.
Other things you can do to help yourself if you are feeling down are to get regular
exercise, eat well, stay active, and spend time with friends and loved ones. If you don't
find yourself gradually feeling better, though, its a good idea to speak with your doctor to see if you could get better with a little extra help from medication or psychotherapy.
For more information about depression, check out the following websites.
Next time, I'll talk about the other "big one" as far as mental health problems go:
anxiety. Do you have something that you would like to see addressed in a future column, or have comments about this column? Send emails to
or letters to the Mountain View News.
First published in the Mountain View News, March 2006
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