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You Can Beat Depression

It's a Genuine Illness, But there are Very Effective Treatments

Even the delights of spring are not enough to cheer the 20 million Americans who suffer from depression. But fortunately, this illness can be treated successfully, says Neil Zolkind, M.D., Director of Psychiatry at Westchester Medical Center's Behavioral Health Center.

"We all feel blue from time to time," Dr. Zolkind says. "But for most of us, these periods are brief. When symptoms last more than a couple of weeks, it's time to seek help."

Depressed people are at risk for substance abuse, he adds. "They also may stop taking care of themselves, not take medications for other illnesses, overeat, fail to exercise or let their appearance and hygiene suffer."

Depression affects family relationships and work or school performance.

"A particularly troublesome symptom is a feeling of hopelessness," Dr. Zolkind warns. "That's when we're concerned about suicide risk."

He says family members should directly ask a depressed person if he or she is having suicidal thoughts. "They may be afraid to ask, but such thoughts are considered a medical emergency," he says. "They require consultation with a psychiatrist as quickly as possible."

If the person is not in immediate danger, the first step in treatment is often seeing a primary care physician, Dr. Zolkind says. He or she can check for any medical conditions that may be causing depression. Thyroid disease, anemia, other metabolic problems and certain medications all may affect one's emotional state, he says.

Once medical reasons are ruled out, the doctor may refer the patient to a psychiatrist, who will take a more detailed mental health and interpersonal history to see if he or she might benefit from psychotherapy or medications. When used in tandem, antidepressant medications and talk therapy often provide relief.

"Don't think of your depressed loved one as simply being lazy or difficult," the doctor urges. "People with depression have a genuine illness. Fortunately, like most illnesses, it's very treatable. But everyone needs to take it seriously."

Don't ignore signs of depression

If you have any of these symptoms for more than a week or two, see your doctor or a mental health professional:

  • Persistent sad, anxious or "empty" feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once enjoyed, including sex
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • insomnia, early-morning wakefulness or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease with treatment

If you are thinking of suicide, see a physician or go to an emergency room immediately.

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