Monday Medical: Understanding depression |

Monday Medical: Understanding depression

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Yampa Valley Medical Center is holding a free family health program on "Understanding Depression." Speakers are Dr. Kimberly Nordstrom and Dr. Brian Harrington. The program is 7 p.m. Wednesday in Conference Room 1. For more information, call 871-2500.

Kimberly Nordstrom, MD, JD

special to steamboat today

You have a bad day. You feel a little sad. This is not depression.

Humans have the ability to have a wide range of emotions on any given day. Some days we might feel great, other days, not so great. We feel sadness, happiness, anxiety, fear, anger – a whole host of emotions. We are lucky; have you ever seen a computer laugh?

It is when an emotion starts to get in the way of living life that we understand it to be an illness. Look up from this paper. Scan the room or the street – odds are that someone you are looking at right now is either suffering from or has suffered from a mental illness.

One of the most common forms of mental illness is depression.

It is important to understand that “depressed mood” is a cardinal symptom in many mood disorders as well as several general medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism. The treatments differ depending on the source of the illness.

The correct diagnosis is needed in order to get the most appropriate treatment. Treatments vary widely and are most commonly in the form of medications and therapies (also known as “talk therapy”).

Depression, formally known as Major Depressive Disorder, is commonly experienced as sadness and the loss of interest or pleasure, along with a cluster of other symptoms. Common symptoms may include:

– Difficulty with sleep

– Appetite change causing an increase or decrease in weight

– Problems concentrating

– Fatigue or loss of energy

– Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness

– Recurrent thoughts of death.

MDD is a biologically based illness, meaning there is a known decrease in activity of certain brain chemicals. There also is a genetic component but the basis of this is not fully understood scientifically.

Doctors will commonly use antidepressants to help increase the amount of neurochemicals available for use in specific parts of the brain. There are many forms of antidepressants; doctors try to determine the most suitable medicine based on what symptoms are present and what side effects are best avoided. Numerous talk therapies also are used to help in depression.

Some of the long-term benefits of appropriate and effective treatment are better coping skills, better interpersonal relationships and better mood stabilization.

It also is essential for persons suffering from depression, as well as their families, to become educated about the disease. Approximately two-thirds of people with MDD contemplate suicide and studies have shown as many as 10 percent of these go on to attempt suicide. This is why it is important for family members and friends to be educated and watching for the disease.

Patient-driven Web sites and national organizations, such as the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, can provide valuable information.

Locally, we have numerous care givers in the form of primary care physicians and psychiatrists, as well as therapists. Steamboat Springs also has a thriving depression support group that meets regularly and a survivors’ group for family and friends of those who have lost someone due to suicide.

Kimberly Nordstrom, M.D., J.D., is a psychiatrist practicing in Steamboat Springs.

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