04/22/04 — Depression is "equal opportunity disease", lecturer says

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Depression is "equal opportunity disease", lecturer says

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on April 22, 2004 2:05 PM

Nearly 19 million adults in the U.S. are struggling right now with depression. The disease hits both sexes and all ages, classes and races.

"It's an equal-opportunity disease," Dr. Kimberly Johnson told an audience of 80 people Wednesday. "Probably every person in this room has been affected, either themselves or someone in their family."

The good news is that most people can be helped through drugs, therapy or a combination of the two, she said.

Dr. Johnson spoke at a "Lunch and Learn" seminar at the Wayne County public schools' administration building. The event was sponsored by the Mental Health Association in Wayne County.

Some people might have trouble distinguishing depression from the typical blues everyone experiences occasionally, she said.

Psychiatrists define a major depressive episode as a depressed mood or loss of interest in things that a person had previously enjoyed. The episode must last longer than two weeks and not be due to bereavement.

Also, a depressed person may experience symptoms such as a loss of energy, feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, insomnia or excessive sleep, unexplained aches and pains, stomachache and digestive problems, sexual problems, a change in appetite, or thoughts of death or suicide

These symptoms probably are severe enough to impair work or otherwise prevent the person from leading a normal life.

People who believe that they are depressed should seek treatment. If untreated, depression can worsen. About 5 to 10 percent of patients with major depression go on to have biploar disorders, she said.

The most common treatment for depression includes the combination of antidepressant medicine and psychotherapy. Medications improve symptoms of depression by increasing the availability of certain brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.

The major types of antidepressants have varying side effects and benefits. A psychiatrist should work with the patient to determine the best fit.

Therapy is used to treat mild and moderate forms of depression. The mental health professional helps people focus on behaviors, emotions, and ideas that contribute to depression.

Electroconvulsive therapy is a useful option for many people with severe depression.

Dr. Johnson urged the audience not to let old prejudices steer them away from it.

"It's not 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest' anymore," she said.

The procedure is performed under general anesthesia and has a lower mortality rate than childbirth.

She encouraged anyone who hears a depressed person talk about suicide to take the threat seriously. About 10 to 15 percent of people with major depression do kill themselves, while more will attempt it.