Depression: What Are The Effects?
Patricia Zifferblatt | September 1, 2003

The June 18, 2003, issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) contains several articles on depression and its effects. Depression is a common problem--it's estimated that over 14 million people have some form of depression in America. And yet it has taken many years for people to come to the conclusion that depression is a medical problem that must be treated by a health professional and not one to be hidden, denied, or ridiculed.

There are many different types of depression, all of which require a correct diagnosis and treatment that may take weeks, months, and even years to correct. Depression is not a sign of personal weakness, not a lack of belief in God, and not something that any sane person wishes on himself or herself--or anyone else, for that matter. Admitting you have depression does not necessarily mean you're weak or looking for sympathy. The first step in treating depression is to accept the fact that depression can happen to anyone at any given time, and that no one should ever be ashamed to admit to himself or herself that depression is a health issue that can and should be addressed for a better quality of life. People who are treated for ulcers or migraine headaches or high cholesterol have health issues--and so do those with depression.

If you've noticed that depression seems to run in families, this may be the reason: for people who carry a short version of a certain gene, researchers found double the likelihood of depression after numerous stressful life events. For more information on this study, see www.nimh.nih.gov/events/prgenestress.cfm

What is depression?
Depression is best described as having a feeling of sadness, of emptiness, of lack of interest in life and life's happenings most of the time. Many depressed people cry a lot, sometimes very unexpectedly. Depression can affect a person after the death of a friend or loved one, after a divorce, or a job loss. Many women experience some depression during the time of hormonal changes associated with monthly menstruation, pregnancy, and after childbirth. In many people depression comes and goes, and nearly everyone feels a little down for a day or two now and then. But when depression comes and stays for an extended time, medical or professional help is needed.

What are the signs of major depression?
Health experts use this guideline: If you experience any of the following symptoms for two weeks or more, you have depression:
  • Feelings of sadness or emptiness.
  • Feeling worthless.
  • Feeling guilty.
  • Lack of interest and pleasure in everyday happenings.
  • Recurrent thoughts of suicide and/or death.
  • Loss of energy and/or fatigue.
  • Feeling either overly agitated or mentally slow.
  • Appetite changes resulting in either rapid weight gain or weight loss.
  • Wanting to sleep all the time or hardly sleeping at all.
Some types of depression are diagnosed as bipolar disorder (having episodes of major depression and episodes of abnormally elevated mood mania), others as dysthymia (mild depression lasting over two years). Some women suffer from postpartum depression after the birth of a child, and both men and women in some areas of the world can be affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD) during winter when there is very little light. This is why a correct diagnosis is necessary for the treatment of depression, and only a health professional can make this diagnosis.

What can a doctor do for symptoms of depression?
It depends on the patient and the doctor's evaluation of the patient. The treatments may include any or all of the following: medications, changes in lifestyle, and counseling. According to the JAMA articles, "Anyone who is experiencing symptoms of depression should be evaluated by a doctor. Although individuals with depression often feel that nothing can help them, effective treatments are available. Evaluation and treatment are important to prevent suicide. Suicide usually stems from depression."

Is there anything else that helps?
Recently, many health professionals have been advocating changes in lifestyle for people with various types of depression, including changes in diet and exercise patterns:
  • Too many sugary or starchy foods can cause chemical highs and lows in the body affecting mood swings.

  • The correct balance of high quality, protein-rich foods and complex carbohydrates has been found to be beneficial for overall well-being, including treatment of mood swings.

  • Exercise is known to help in the release of chemicals in the brain that can have a positive effect on depression.

  • The herb St. John's wort has been used effectively in some patients with seasonal affective disorder.

  • Vitamin B complex, known to be necessary for the nervous system as the "anti-stress vitamin," may also help the individual suffering from depression.

  • The use of the herbs passionflower and valerian may help to ease some of the day-to-day problems of nervousness and sleeplessness associated with depression.
We at Better Life Unlimited suggest that any person experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms should talk with a health professional or counselor with expertise in treating depression, and follow the guidelines as recommended by the health professional.

For additional information, contact any of the following organizations:
  • The American Psychiatric Association: www.psych.org
  • The National Mental Health Association: www.depression-screening.org
  • Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: www.dbsalliance.org
  • Your local mental health agency
  • The National Institute of Mental Health: www.nimh.nih.gov
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