Dear Dr. Garner,
For the past few weeks, I have been feeling sad all the time. Nothing makes me happy.
I have a wonderful husband and beautiful children, yet I feel as though something is not right.
I used to love going to the beach and dining out during the summer months. We have a vacation planned but I don’t want to go. I just want to stay in the house. I don’t even want to get dressed in the morning.
My family life is starting to suffer but I don’t know what to do. I just can’t snap out of it.
Feeling Sad in Flushing
Dear Feeling Sad,
Thank you for writing to me. It is important that you have recognized your problem and want to do something to deal with it.
I hope that talking about your condition will help others out there.
Depression is a medical illness, similar to other disorders in which there is an imbalance of chemicals. In this case, the imbalance happens in the brain.
You’re right: You cannot just snap out of it. You need medical help. 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.
Symptoms of Major Depression
How can you tell if you have this serious form of the disease?
If you experience five of the symptoms below, every day for almost the entire day over a two-week period, you are suffering from major depression.
- Sad mood
- Diminished interest in things that were once enjoyed and feeling no pleasure at all
- Significant weight loss without dieting
- Insomnia or an increased desire to sleep
- Restless or slowed behavior that is observed by someone else
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
- Trouble making decisions or concentrating
- 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. It produces improvement almost immediately.
It is sometimes necessary to admit a depressed person to the hospital as there is an increased risk of suicide in the first few weeks after starting antidepressant medications, particularly in young adults.
You must seek help immediately. Please contact me if you have any problems getting help.
Benefits of Religious Services
One study published in the last few years 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 percent decreased chance of being depressed.
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, improved social relationships and discouraging harmful habits.
Acknowledge and respect your feelings, and please seek medical help for your benefit and for your family.
Dr. Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts “Ask the Doctor” on NET-TV, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Time Warner Channel 97 and Cablevision Channel 30.