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March 17, 2016

MENTAL HEALTH: Depression: Getting help

Despite advances in the understanding of depression and its treatment, there still are many misunderstandings about the illness, says Crystal White, psychiatry faculty member in the School of Medicine.

White will discuss the image of depression and provide information about seeking help for the disease on March 29, noon-1 p.m., in the William Pitt Union’s Kurtzman Room. The mental health task force of the University Senate’s benefits and welfare committee is sponsoring the session.

White is a clinician in the inpatient geriatric unit at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic and teaches School of Medicine residents and medical students about depression. She notes that although there has been a marked increase in public awareness of major depression’s biological basis, a high percentage of people still believe they need to keep their distance from those with depression and that depression sufferers are somehow dangerous. There also is too great a reluctance to talk publicly about depression, White says.

Sad student sitting on stairs in college

According to a 2012 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published in 2014:

• Nearly 8 percent of Americans aged 12 and older have depression, with symptoms more prevalent
among females and people ages 40-59.
• People living below the poverty level are almost two and a half times more likely to have depression
than those at or above the poverty level.
• Almost 43 percent of people with severe depressive symptoms had serious difficulties in work, home
and social activities, and 35 percent had contact with a mental health professional in the year prior to
the survey.

“Sadness and feeling down are a major part of the human experience,” White notes. But major depressive disorder has more severe symptoms that take over a person’s days. People with this illness stop enjoying what they normally enjoy. They suffer changes in sleep patterns, appetite and energy levels, have trouble concentrating, feel hopeless or worthless, and may think about death or suicide.

“Mental health is the leading cause of loss of healthy years of life for working-age adults,” White says, citing a World Health Organization study.

But there certainly is hope, she adds. Her talk will outline the common treatments for major depression: medication and psychotherapy. “It really depends on the person” whether either or both will work best, she says, but in the most severe cases it is unlikely that psychotherapy alone will work.

White concludes: “I’m hoping that people will understand that depression is an illness, that it is nothing to be ashamed of and there is treatment available.”

—Marty Levine 

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