Originally created 01/02/01

Age old question



Q: My husband was diagnosed with depression. How can I help him cheer up? - M.C., Evans

A: Too often, we think of depression as a fleeting emotion. For many of us, if we feel blue after a bad day at work or other event, we think we are depressed, but then we feel better after a good turn of events.

For many people, that blue feeling lingers for weeks or months or years. Sometimes, depression is caused by a traumatic episode such as the death of a loved one or the loss of a job. Some cases develop slowly without such an event.

Depression affects the body and mind and can include weight gain, slowed behavior, feelings of sadness or loss of energy. According to depression expert Liora Nordenberg, Abe Lincoln, Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt, Edgar Allen Poe, Vincent van Gogh and Georgia O'Keefe all suffered from depression. More recently, TV personalities Drew Carey and Mike Wallace have admitted their own personal struggles with depression.

According to Mary Rappaport of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, "a lot of people still believe that depression is a character flaw or is caused by bad parenting." However, we now know that depression is an illness, like heart disease or diabetes.

Depression may be caused by a number of factors, including family history, alcohol abuse or traumatic experiences. Depression also may result from a chemical imbalance in the brain or a person's psychological makeup. Though women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression, men are not immune. Depression can affect people of any age, race or socioeconomic status.

You can help your husband by monitoring his mood, level of activity and physical condition. Keep him involved in activities around the house and with friends. Such social interaction is vital since those who are depressed are often prone to thoughts of suicide. In fact, the Wellness Councils of America estimate that 15 percent of those who are diagnosed with severe depression commit suicide.

The National Institute of Mental Health encourages friends and family members to help the depressed keep their doctors' appointments and stick to their prescribed plan of treatment. However, don't expect them to "snap out of it."

If you or a loved one is experiencing five or more of the following symptoms of depression for more than two weeks, please see your family physician.

People with clinical depression:

Feel sad, anxious, irritable, nervous or empty.

They may sleep too little or too much.

They may have thoughts of suicide or death.

They may feel fatigued.

They may feel guilty, worthless or hopeless.

They may lose interest in favorite activities.

They may gain or lose weight. They may have chronic physical ailments that don't respond to treatment.

They may find it difficult to concentrate or make decisions.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 17 million Americans are diagnosed with depression each year. There is significant hope for treatment though. The American Psychiatric Association reported that 80 percent to 90 percent of those diagnosed with depression are successfully treated each year. Treatment may include medication, psychotherapy or a combination of both methods.

While the support will help tremendously, someone who is depressed should see a professional for treatment. Your family physician, a counselor or a trained psychologist will be able to help.

For more information about depression, call the National Mental Health Association at (800) 969-NMHA (6642). The American Psychiatric Association may be reached at (202) 682-6000. The federal government's Depression Awareness Recognition Treatment Program provides free brochures on depression for those who seek more information. Call (800) 421-4211. The American Association of Retired Persons also offers a free brochure on depression. Call (800) 255-1708.

If you have a question or would like additional information, please write to Shirley McIntosh, Resource Center on Aging, 2803 Wrightsboro Road, Suite 51, Augusta, GA 30909.