At some point in their life, seventeen percent of people suffer from the illness called Major Depressive Disorder. More people battle with clinical depression than are left-handed, but many people still don’t understand what depression is or how it works.
Depression is an illness of the brain that changes your emotional response to situations. Emotional responses such as excitement, contentedness, and even sadness and anger are important to the way we live. Disrupting the normal functioning of these responses has far-reaching consequences for the body as well as the mind.
Depression is Physical
Of the core nine symptoms used to diagnose depression, four of them manifest physically: depression causes changes in appetite (over- or undereating), changes in sleep (over- or undersleeping), a change in psychomotor activity (difficulty with simple or automatic tasks), and low energy (fatigue). Many people believe that depressed patients should just “get over it” because their illness is “all in their head”—however, many of those same people would call sick from work if they experienced these same symptoms as the result of a common cold.
Unfortunately, unlike cold symptoms, depression will not go away if you wait for a few days. Out of every five people whose depression is left untreated, only two will fully recover within a year. One more will partially recover but still have symptoms; the other two will still be just as depressed at the end of the year. What’s worse, a patient who remains depressed for a long time is more likely to relapse after recovering.
The risks of untreated depression are numerous: apart from the risk of suicide, there are risks associated with weight change, self-harm, and self-medication. Depressed patients can have difficulties keeping up with work, maintaining their social relationships, or staying physically fit, opening them up to a host of financial, social, and physical problems. Depression is best treated early and aggressively.
The most effective treatments for depression are therapy and the use of antidepressant medications. Therapy for depression usually involves a strategy called “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,” which teaches patients to change the way that events effect their feelings. The most common antidepressants are a group of medications called SSRIs. These medications are not “happy pills”; they don’t impair judgment or produce a “high” when taken normally. Rather, SSRIs restore normal functioning in depressed patients by directly countering the changes in brain functioning that cause depression. Side effects vary based on the patient and the individual drug, but are usually not serious. Any side effects from any medication you take should be discussed with your doctor as soon as possible.
Clinical research is another option for depression patients. Lincoln Research is currently looking for depressed patients to help with a trial for a new antidepressant medication. If you’re interested, call (401) 305-5200 for a confidential interview.