Depression is a commonly used and terribly misunderstood term. When mental health professionals refer to depression, they are referring to a syndrome—a constellation of symptoms that persists every day for two weeks or longer. Patients may feel blue, hopeless and “down in the dumps.’’ They also may complain of fatigue, sleep disturbances, changes in appetite and decreased concentration.
Think about the saddest you’ve ever felt and feeling like that every day for no obvious reason — this is a good description of major depression.
In the past two decades, we have learned much about the causes of depression. We now know from brain imaging studies that depression, like Parkinson’s disease and stroke, is a brain disease. In addition, depression can run in families.
Depression can be effectively treated by antidepressant medications — such as Prozac, Effexor, Zoloft, Lexapro and others —and/or certain forms of psychotherapy (cognitive-behavior therapy and others).
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Patients who fail to respond to one antidepressant often respond to another. Those who do not respond to antidepressants or psychotherapy treatments can receive other approved and effective treatments, including repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
The good news is that the vast majority of patients can be effectively treated; the bad news is that many patients remain underdiagnosed and untreated or are reluctant to seek treatment from mental health professionals. When it comes to mental health, patients should always seek out mental health experts — just as they would for any illness.
Charles B. Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D., is chief of psychiatry at UHealth - the University of Miami Health System, and professor and chairman of psychiatry at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Visit umiamihospital.com/specialties/psychiatry