When it’s More Than the “Blues”:

How to Recognize and Defeat Depression


By: Tracey Minella


Patti dreamed of this moment her whole life. The man of her dreams at the altar. She is a vision in white. A picture-perfect day by anyone’s standards.  She has something old, something new, something borrowed…and she is blue.


Technically, Patti is depressed.


How could this be? This is the happiest day of her life.


Depression is often caused by the stress of major life changes. Not just negative changes like death, divorce, job stress, or financial difficulties. There’s positive stress too. Things like retirement, becoming a parent, and even weddings can cause depression.


Everyone gets the blues now and then. So how do you tell the difference between routine sadness and clinical depression?


In depression, the symptoms aren’t fleeting and bothersome—they are persistent and interfere with your daily functioning. The symptoms are both physical and emotional. And they differ from person to person.


Here are the some of the warning signs of depression:


·        Constant sadness.

·        Lost interest in favorite activities.

·        Irritability.

·        Trouble concentrating.

·        Fatigue or low energy.

·        Lack of motivation.

·        Feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty for no reason.

·        Feelings of isolation—not as involved with friends or family.

·        Trouble sleeping.

·        Significant weight change without diet.

·        Persistent physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive disorders, or vague aches and pains.

·        Thoughts of death or suicide.


If you think you may be depressed, take the two-week test.  Ask yourself if over the past two weeks or longer, you’ve been bothered all day, nearly every day, by either of the first two signs above-- to the point that it’s interfering with your ability to function at work or home. If so, and you are also suffering from any four of the remaining symptoms, you may be clinically depressed. But only a doctor can make the diagnosis.


Depression can strike anybody at any time. And people with a family history of depression may be at greater risk. The social stigma attached to depression is disappearing as more patients find the courage to ask for help.


It is estimated that depression affects between 5% and 10% of all people, making it one of the most common reasons people see their primary care physician.  Depression affects about 340 million people worldwide and is projected to become the second leading cause of disability in the world by 2020. Currently, it is the leading cause of medical disability among people ages 15-44 in the United States.


The good news is: depression is treatable. And there are several options available including:


  • Medications: usually antidepressants. A popular and often effective approach to relieving the symptoms of depression, but with side-effects such as headache, nausea, insomnia, irritability, jitters, sexual difficulties, and suicide to consider.


  • Talk Therapy: such as weekly sessions with a psychologist or a community-based specialized support group. Can be used as sole therapy or in conjuction with medication. Targets finding and curing possibly deep-rooted causes of depression.


  • Natural/Holistic remedies: such as adding Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil supplements); folic acid supplements; herbal supplements (St. John’s Wort). Few studies exist to prove the effectiveness of these emerging alternative therapies, but they are popular with people seeking a drug-free treatment option for mild depression.


  • Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT): (formerly referred to as “shock treatment”) Often reserved for the most severe or suicidal cases, or those in which the medications have been ineffective or are contraindicated.


  • Lifestyle changes:  Patient identifying and removing the particular depression-inducing stressors in your life.


  • Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS): Newest FDA-approved option. Availability restricted to chronic or recurrent depression, lasting over 2 years, for which at least 4 other medical treatments have been unsuccessful. Involves surgical implantation of a pulse generating device in the chest. Research on effectiveness is ongoing.


Which treatment--or combination of treatments—is right for you will be determined by the severity of your depression (mild to severe).  Before prescribing medication as a treatment option, your doctor should consider (a) the symptoms you are suffering from, and (b) how those symptoms could be affected by the possible side effects of a considered medication.  (For example, if you are already having trouble sleeping, your doctor may avoid prescribing a medication for which insomnia is a side effect.)   So what worked for your friend may not be right for you.


Remember, you may be down, but you’re not out.  Depression is an illness, not a weakness. With some help, you can reclaim your life. Today is your day.