Dear Dr. Garner,
I am writing to you out of desperation. For the past few weeks, I have been feeling sad all the time.
I have a wonderful husband and beautiful children, yet I feel as though something is not right. Nothing makes me happy.
Usually I love the summer months. This year, I don’t want to go anywhere or do anything. I just prefer to stay in bed.
My family life is starting to suffer, but I am so tired I don’t feel I can help them.
I feel like I can’t snap out of it, and I’m not sure what to do.
Sad in Sheepshead Bay
Thank you for writing to me. It is important that you have recognized your problem and want to do something to deal with it.
Depression is a medical illness, similar to other disorders, such as diabetes, in which there is an imbalance of chemicals — in this case, in the brain. You cannot just snap out of it.
You need medical help consisting of medication and counseling to overcome the feelings you are experiencing.
The good news is that you can be helped, and you have made the biggest step — recognizing that you have a problem and being willing to seek help.
There are different types of depression, both mild and major. Feeling sad when someone close dies is a natural occurrence, but not leaving the house for a month or not being able to function in your everyday life requires help.
Major Depression Symptoms
How can you tell if you have this serious form of the disease?
If you experience five or more of the symptoms below every day for almost the entire day over a two-week period, you are suffering from major depression.
1. You have a sad mood.
2. You have diminished interest and feel no pleasure at all.
3. You experience significant weight loss without dieting.
4. You have insomnia/increased desire to sleep.
5. You have restless/slowed behavior that is observed by someone else.
6. You have fatigue/loss of energy.
7. You feel worthless or have excessive guilt.
8. You have trouble making decisions or concentrating.
9. You have repeated thoughts of death or suicide.
Remember, the above symptoms must be present almost every day for two weeks without being due to the effects of medication or a medical condition like low thyroid activity.
People who are depressed often have an alteration in their brains with abnormal amounts of certain chemicals produced.
It appears to be inherited and affects women twice as often as men. It may be related to an early childhood trauma, either physical or mental.
There is help available in the form of medications and counseling. In addition, a treatment that might sound barbaric is actually innocuous and helpful — shock therapy, or ECT. It produces improvement almost immediately.
Benefits of Religious Services
A new study published last year demonstrated a connection between happiness and optimism in women who attended religious services at least once a month.
These people had as much as a 30% decreased chance of being depressed. They were also 20% less likely to die during the course of the study.
While there is no guarantee that you will live longer or be less depressed, the study concluded that the benefits of attending religious services might include calming effects in stressful times, improved social relationships and discouraging harmful habits.
You aren’t alone, and you don’t have to go through this alone. Please seek help; it is available. Keep me updated on your progress.[hr] Dr. Steven Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts “Ask the Doctor” on The NET, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Channel 97 Time Warner and Channel 30 Cablevision.