Mental Health Minute: Depression: More than just a feeling, it can take a life

Manatee GlensAugust 9, 2011 

Dr. Pat Lucas began to worry when she didn’t hear from her brother. When she went to check on him, Dr. Lucas found him dead in his apartment. He had taken his own life.

“I’ll never forget that day as long as I live,” said the retired Manatee educator, who is now volunteering to raise awareness that depression is a medical problem that requires treatment.

Depression is the most common of all the brain disorders as it affects one out of four persons sometime in their lifetime. Treatment is simple and always should include counseling for the underlying life experience that contributes to depression, such as grief, trauma, unemployment, financial troubles, stress, caregiving fatigue or breakup of a relationship.

Sometimes medication is also indicated. This is often the case when the depression is a side effect of a physical condition such as childbirth, heart attack, stroke or memory disorders. However, medication alone simply isn’t as effective in resolving the symptoms of depression for most people.

Untreated depression can be fatal. More people die from suicide than from car accidents in Manatee County. Last year the United States military lost more soldiers to suicide than to combat.

No age group is immune. Eight-year-olds as well as octogenarians can experience suicidal feelings. Recently Sarasota County lost three high school students who took their own lives in the space of just five weeks.

People with depression try to carry on as if nothing is wrong because they often don’t understand what is happening. They doubt themselves and try to “snap out of it.” As the illness worsens, a person can completely lose the ability to express feelings or take any action to help themselves. This can make it hard for others to realize just how far their illness has progressed.

The clues are subtle and easy to overlook. One danger signal is if the person expresses a profound lack of self-worth such as “You would all be better off without me.” Another red flag is if the person expresses a sense of hopelessness such as “I don’t see any way that this can get ever get better” or “I just don’t want to live any more.”

The response from family and friends should be direct, “Have you ever had any thoughts of taking your own life?” Contrary to popular belief, this does not encourage thoughts of suicide. Rather, the suicidal person is most often relieved that a friend or family member recognizes their feelings. Don’t give the loved one any option. Tell them, “You have to get help right now.” Take action immediately.

If you are a young person, tell a teacher or school counselor. Yes, you might lose a friend, but you can save a life. If you are an adult, take the person to their doctor, nearest walk-in clinic, counseling center or emergency room.

The best medical specialty to evaluate depression is a psychiatrist but any doctor should be able to assess how far the disease has progressed and recommend treatment.

Dr. Lucas is honoring her brother’s life on Saturday, Sept. 24, at the Manatee Glens Walk for Life event. She will be joined by more than 1,000 students and adults who will walk 5 kilometers to raise awareness about depression and prevent suicide during September Suicide Prevention Month.

If you would like to honor one lost or learn more about depression visit www.manateeglens.org and click on Walk for Life.

Mary Ruiz, is president/CEO of Manatee Glens. We welcome your ideas for future topics in Mental Health Minute at nancy.mccarty@manateeglens.org.

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