We have a depression problem.
According to psychiatrist Carol A. Tavani of Newark, depression is the most commonly diagnosed mental condition and is the most common reason for hospitalization. About 25 percent of us will suffer a major episode of depression at some time during our lives, and that episode could compromise performance on the job and other day-to-day functioning for weeks, maybe months.
The causes will vary from person to person. Depression may result from the loss of a loved one, from an organic condition—a chemical imbalance in the brain such as bipolar disorder—or from a serious health issue such as heart attack or stroke.
No matter the cause, anyone’s chance of developing a major depression is 50-50, Tavani says. What’s more, someone who has had a major episode is 75 percent more likely to have a second, and those who have had two episodes have a 90 percent chance of having a third. “It’s a chronically lapsing problem,” she says. And it is often combined with another issue, such as substance abuse, an anxiety disorder or Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
The happy news is that the condition doesn’t carry the stigma that it once did—”though that’s not entirely gone,” Tavani says—and doctors have a better understanding of the condition than they did in the past. They’re better at identifying depression, and they’re better at treating it, thanks to better psychological counseling and medications that can restore proper brain chemistry.
“There’s lots of false information about medication, like it’s mind controlling,” Tavani says. “Nothing could be further from the truth. These things can be lifesavers. The brain is just another organ of the body. It can be affected like any other organ. Antidepressants restore the balance.”
Symptoms of depression are “common sense things,” Tavani says: persistent sadness, frequent tearfulness, sleep problems (either insomnia or over sleeping), heightened anxiety, a drastic change in appetite and persistent guilt, “even if it doesn’t make sense.”
One may not recognize the symptoms in himself, though they may notice them in others. The best thing to do for another? Urge them to seek help. Medication and counseling can do wonders.
“It’s not a favor to do nothing or say nothing,” Tavani says. “And it’s hard to do. Sometimes all you can do is be there and support somebody while you gently persuade them to get help. We’re all in it together—or at least we should be.”