Brooklyn Heights resident Jason Hershberger, MD is Chief of Psychiatry, Downstate Long Island College Hospital (LICH). In light of recent events in our community, we invited him to shed some light on depression, an important public health issue.
There is a growing understanding in this country that depression is an illness that requires treatment. Much of the stigma of the past has given way to the reality that many of us will seek out medical help for depression at some point in our lives. We now understand that depression is about as common as high blood pressure and just as responsive to treatment. Many Americans have included treatment for depression as part of their routine to stay healthy, and now antidepressants are the most common medications prescribed in America.
While we may appreciate these facts when they apply to others, when we find ourselves depressed we too often delay treatment. Sometimes we delay treatment because we don’t want to acknowledge that we are depressed; sometimes it is because the illness tries to convince us that our problems aren’t important enough, or that treatment won’t work.
So what is depression? It is more than just feeling sad, it’s a sadness that you can’t shake no matter how hard you try or how long you wait. Depression can rob you of your ability to think, work, love, and enjoy life. It can make you feel like your body is made out of lead, and your head is filled with cement. Depression is not rare. According to National Institute of Mental Health, 6.7% of Americans suffer from an episode of major depression each year, and depression is the leading cause of disability for young adults. Even today, we estimate that less than half of the people who suffer from depression get help for it. We can do better.
If you recognize these symptoms, get help now:
· Feeling sad most of the time for weeks at a time
· Finding yourself unable to enjoy what used to be fun
· Feeling guilty, hopeless or helpless
· Being unable to concentrate
· Sleeping too little or too much and feeling tired all the time
· Eating too much, or too little, with a significant change in weight.
· Having morbid thoughts about death and a bleak future
· Thinking about suicide
Suicide is the most frightening and dangerous symptom of depression. Eleven in 100,000 Americans die of suicide each year, making it the 10th leading cause of death in our country. For young people ages 15-24 suicide is the third leading cause of death. The major risk factor found in the majority of suicides is major depression followed by the combination of depression with alcoholism.
The good news is that there are effective treatments for depression – no one has to live with it. The first step is asking for help, something that can be hard to do if you are feeling hopeless, but something that is necessary. Ask your doctor, or reach out to a mental health provider. More than 70% of people with depression say “I feel like myself again” after only three months of treatment. Almost everyone gets significant relief. Treatments can include talk therapy and medication. With some patients, both are used together.
If you do not suffer from depression but are concerned about someone important to you, help them take the first few steps to meet with a behavioral health professional. Depressed and demoralized people have trouble getting the health care they need and deserve – you can be an important support and advocate for them.
The Department of Psychiatry at Downstate Long Island College Hospital includes inpatient, outpatient and emergency psychiatric services. For physician referral please call (888) 270-SUNY(7869), or visit us at www.downstate.edu/LICH.