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Remember you’re not alone

Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States, consistently ranks among the top three workplace issues and accounts for over $210 billion in lost earnings annually. But if you’re not aware of the signs, the condition can often go untreated for years. 

“The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has found that 6.7 percent of American adults suffered from depression in 2016, yet 37 percent don’t seek treatment,” says Dr. M. Justin Coffey, chair of Geisinger’s Department of Psychiatry, Addiction Medicine and Behavioral Health. “This is troubling because there are good treatments, but the condition can worsen if it’s not addressed.”

In addition to disability and impairment, chronic and recurring depression symptoms are also linked to attempted suicide, claiming over 42,000 lives each year. That’s one death by suicide every 12 minutes. 

Though research is still needed to pinpoint the cause of depression, it’s believed to be a series of social, psychological and biological factors, and can sometimes be triggered by a traumatic or stressful event. Abuse, conflict and grief are common triggers, but genetic factors play a major role.

“Depression is often hereditary,” says Dr. Coffey, “but it can’t be isolated to any one gene. Several genes are needed to activate the condition.” Research has also uncovered a link between depression and the parts of the brain that affect memory and emotions and may be related to the amount and function of serotonin and other brain chemicals that are important to how our brains work and transmit messages along nerve fibers.

Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that regulates mood, appetite, sleep, memory and other vital systems. Current research suggests that the amount and how the brain cells use serotonin and other similar neurotransmitters can affect how we experience our emotions. 

Identifying symptoms 
While depression can appear at any age, the median age of onset is 32.5 and appears more commonly in women than men. 

“Depressed men are more prone to recklessness and irritability, while depressed women tend to grapple with feelings of guilt and worthlessness,” says Dr. Coffey. Other common signs of the condition that you shouldn’t ignore include:

  • Avoiding friends or beloved activities
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping
  • Low energy or loss of motivation
  • Lost appetite or binge-eating 
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Suicidal thoughts or tendencies  

Symptoms of depression can vary in severity and appear in short bursts or persist over weeks.

Seeking treatment
If you or someone you love is showing one or more of these signs, it’s important to get help immediately. In fact, 80 percent of those who received professional treatment noticed a reduction in their symptoms within six weeks. 

“Depression can be treated with therapy, medication or a combination of the two,” says Dr. Coffey. “Both forms of treatment require dedication from the patient and provider, as psychotherapy interventions and medication dosages will have to be personalized and adjusted to best fit your needs.”

In fact, there are nearly 30 types of antidepressant currently approved for medical use, most of which take between two and four weeks to impact your system. But once your ideal combination of medication is found, it is often an effective treatment method. 

Psychotherapy can take the form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT) or other forms of therapy. CBT is an open-ended strategy that focuses on identifying the thought patterns associated with low self-worth and modifying them for better outcomes. IPT is a timed treatment focusing on the triggers of depression, improving interpersonal relationships and social anxiety.