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Get past the stigma of depression and into effective treatment: depression is a serious illness; learn to ident6 the symptoms, and ask your doctor for help.

Almost twice as many women as men suffer from depression, and about one in five women develop depression at some point in their lifetimes. However, many women do not seek help.

"Often, people don't recognize or understand that they may be suffering from depression," says Susan Evans, PhD, Professor of Psychology in Clinical Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College. "For example, they may attribute symptoms to the perceived stress and demands of everyday life."

Even if they do recognize signs of depression, women still may resist treatment because of its negative stigma. "Many may feel a sense of embarrassment or shame, thinking depression is a sign of weakness," says Dr. Evans. But it's time to get past the stigma: Depression is a disease that arises from biochemical abnormalities and imbalances, just like diabetes, heart disease, or osteoporosis, and there is no shame in seeking help.

The consequences of untreated depression can be significant: It can derail relationships, careers, and individual lives, and it may even become life threatening if it is severe enough to produce suicidal thoughts. "It's important for women to learn the signs and symptoms of depression, to realize that they are not alone, and to know that there are many ways to And help," says Dr. Evans.

Recognize symptoms

It is normal to feel down or "blue" sometimes, but if a low mood lingers beyond a couple of weeks, it could signal depression, says Dr. Evans.

Depression is divided into three categories: major, dysthymic disorder, and minor. All three share many of the same symptoms, which include a loss of or diminished interest in pleasurable activities, increased negative thoughts of yourself, and feelings of helplessness. A depressed person also may become more isolated and withdraw from social situations or frequently cancel plans with friends and family.

Other symptoms include bouts of fatigue and irritability, and changes in the sleep cycle (more or fewer hours than usual) and appetite (cravings for sugary and high-fat foods, or a loss of hunger).

The difference between the three types of depression is in the severity and duration of symptoms. With major depression, symptoms last for at least two weeks and interrupt daily life. An episode of depression may occur only once in a woman's lifetime, but more often, a person experiences several episodes. Dysthymic disorder is not as severe as major depression, and it often may not interfere with daily functioning, but it may last two years or longer. Minor depression may come and go, and not interfere with everyday life enough to be disruptive. The only way to determine if you are suffering from depression, and what type, is to see a healthcare professional experienced in evaluating and diagnosing depression.

Treatment options

Antidepressant medications are a common and effective treatment. They help to correct imbalances in brain chemicals linked to depression, such as serotonin and norepinephrine.

However, some women experience side effects when taking an antidepressant, such as headaches, nausea, agitation, and a drop in sexual desire. (Often, these side effects decrease as a person acclimates to the medication.)

"Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Prozac, Zoloft,

Paxil, Luvox, and Lexapro, tend to have fewer side effects than the older tricyclic antidepressants," says Dr. Evans. Also, the medications often take a few weeks to take effect, so continuing to take the medication is crucial, even if you don't feel better right away. And, everyone's body chemistry is different; don't assume you will have the same, or any, side effects that someone else has experienced.

Another effective option is psychotherapy, or talk therapy. There is strong evidence that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT) help women overcome their depression. says Dr. Evans. "CBT addresses maladapui ve thought patterns that may he contributing to negative mood and behavioral responses," she says. "IPT may help people work through troubled relationships."

Also, rid yourself of the notion that "therapy" entails hours of lying on a couch, discussing the smallest details of' your childhood: Modern therapy for depression is goal-directed, meaning that a problem is identified, a goal is set, and the patient learns to use tools and develops skills to change her thinking and behavior.

For more severe forms of depression that don't respond to other types of treatment, a relatively new treatment called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) may be helpful. In TMS, an electromagnetic coil is placed against the scalp near the forehead and creates electric currents that stimulate nerve cells in the brain region involved in mood control and depression.

"While depression is a serious condition that can have a significant impact on a person's life, there are excellent treatments that can restore a sense of well-being," says Dr. Evans. "Recognizing the presence of mood symptoms and seeking help are important first steps in managing depression and altering its course."

RELATED ARTICLE: SYMPTOMS OF DEPRESSION INCLUDE

* Negative self-image

* Feelings of sadness, helplessness, and hopelessness

* Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed

* Isolation, withdrawal from friends and family

* Change in appetite/eating habits

* Change in sleeping habits

* Suicidal thoughts

* Fatigue

* Irritability
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Publication:Women's Health Advisor
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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