According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 16 million U.S. adults had at least one major depressive episode in the last year. Although depression affects people from all walks of life, it can be effectively treated if professional help is sought. Behavioral Health Medical Director Purshotam Kataria, MD, offers insight on symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.
Q: Is there a particular cause of depression?
Although there is no specific cause of depression, it can happen out of the blue, or have a contributing factor. One factor is genetics – depression or mood disorders can run in families. Another contributor is trauma, which can change the way the brain reacts to stress, especially when the trauma happens in childhood. Life situations, such as divorce or death in the family, can also bring on depression, as can a chronic illness or pain.
Q: What are the symptoms?
Depression involves more than just feeling blue for a day or two. Symptoms can include fatigue, crying spells, mood swings, trouble concentrating, physical aches and pains, low self-esteem, hopelessness, irritability, cravings for carbohydrates, decreased activity, increased drug or alcohol use, sleeping more or less than usual and weight gain. If someone is experiencing any of these symptoms for longer than two weeks, and they start to interfere with everyday life, the person may be depressed.
Q: How is depression diagnosed?
Mental health professionals use many different tools to diagnose someone. Initially, screening questionnaires help determine the severity of depression or suicidal ideation. Blood tests or other diagnostic tests including brain scans based on the person’s medical history may be ordered as well. Another guideline is if the patient has experienced a major depressive episode lasting longer than two weeks.
Q: What treatments are available for depression?
Treatment usually involves a plan tailored to the patient and can include antidepressants, antipsychotic or mood-stabilizing medication; cognitive behavioral therapy, individual or family therapy sessions; light therapy; brain stimulation therapies; exercise, as well as alternate therapies like meditation, acupuncture and mind/body/spirit techniques. As always, if someone is threatening to harm themselves or others, call 9-1-1 immediately.