Overcoming "The Blues" Of Depression
Most of us get "the blues" at one time or another, sometimes in response to a particular event, sometimes seemingly for no reason at all. But for millions of Americans-anywhere from 4.4 million to over 9 million-"the blues" can signal the more serious problem of clinical depression.
Eight in ten of those individuals can be helped. But more than half never seek medical treatment. Instead, they continue to suffer in ways that interfere with their ability to carry on normal daily activities and slow them down mentally and physically.
No two people experience depression in the same way, and symptoms may vary in severity and intensity. As a shorthand test, if you have five or more of the following symptoms for at least two weeks, you may be depressed.
The exact causes of depression are unknown, but the disorder may be due to an imbalance of key chemicals in the brain. Researchers at Glaxo Wellcome Inc. studying the disease say specific mood disorders may involve certain "neurotransmitters"-the chemical messengers that allow brain cells to communicate with one another. Severe depression, for example, seems to relate to low levels of a neurotransmitter called serotonin.
- In a depressed or irritable mood most of the day.
- Loss of interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, usual activities.
- Change in appetite or significant change in weight.
- Change in sleep pattern, including sleeping too much or being unable to sleep.
- Unusual agitation, restlessness, or slowing down of motor skills.
- Loss of energy; fatigue.
- Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or guilt.
- Slowed thinking, indecisiveness, or impaired concentration.
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide; wishing to die or attempting suicide.
Most psychiatrists recognize at least three types of depression:
Who is at risk? For the average individual, the lifetime risk of a major depressive episode may be as high as 15 percent. Studies have shown higher levels of first-time depression among people between the ages of 18 and 29, with progressively lower levels in older age groups. Women face a particularly high risk of experiencing a first-time depression-nearly double the risk for men.
- "dysthymia": the mildest form, is a chronic, low-level mood disturbance that may last for two years or more.
- "major" or "unipolar depression," the most common form, can develop slowly or suddenly, produce impaired concentration, loss of appetite, sleep disturbances, low self-esteem, acute feelings of hopelessness or guilt, and chronic fatigue.
- "Manic" or "bipolar disorder" is a less common but severe illness that combines deep depression with agitated excitement, or mania.
"The good news is that depression can be treated with a variety of antidepressant medications that correct the chemical imbalance in the brain," said Dr. Antonio Laurenza, clinical research physician at Glaxo Wellcome Inc. "Antidepressants generally take up to four to six weeks to work, though some people begin to feel better in as little as one to two weeks."
Glaxo Wellcome researchers are currently searching for new treatments for depression that work more quickly and have fewer side effects than current medications. They are also hunting for the gene, or the genes, potentially involved in causing the most severe forms of depression as a likely candidate for a completely new generation of drugs.
If you think that you, or someone you know, may be suffering from depression, see your doctor. Scheduling an appointment is the first step toward feeling better.
For more information on depression, send for a free brochure by writing Consumer Affairs, Glaxo Wellcome Inc., 5 Moore Drive, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, or call toll free 1-800-437-0992.(NAPSI)
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