Everyone knows what it’s like to have a bad day. To be singing the blues or down in the dumps are common emotions for the human condition. Often though, down moods can rage on for weeks and months for no reason at all. Occasionally, people get better on their own without help. But far too many people suffer unnecessarily because they do not realize help is available or do not think they need it. Do I need professional help? That was the question that Peaches asked herself. Peaches had always been the backbone of the family. Being the eldest of five children she was the person everyone in the family came to for everything. When she lost her mother five years ago, everyone marveled at her ability to keep it together. Her mother Emma Mae had been her best friend and confidante since Peaches was a teenager. Peaches didn’t cry at the funeral and went back to her full time job the next day. Her mother had always taught her, “There’s no time for tears when there’s work to be done.” Peaches thought to herself, “Instead of wasting time crying I could have finished cleaning up the house, scrubbing the floors and washing and folding all the kids clothes for the week.” Besides, she mused, “I’ll get my reward when the children graduate and get good jobs.”
But then, about four years after her mother passed, life suddenly changed for Peaches. She could no longer cope with stress as she had in the past. She was sad and on the verge of tears just about every day now. Often she would burst into tears for no reason. She started noticing headaches, upset stomach, and back aches that became worse anytime the kids or someone at work started plucking her nerves. Her supervisor had given her several verbal reprimands for tardiness, making careless mistakes, and poor productivity at work. On this particular day she d had it with work. She decided that she would call in sick and spend the day at home cleaning up the house in preparation for a Bible study she had planned for Saturday. But try as she might, she could not get started with the cleaning. After missing five days at work, her supervisor informed her she would need a doctor’s note before returning. She had not seen the doctor in the past six years. After completing her physical exam he began to talk with her about his concerns. Her overall condition had deteriorated since her last visit. Her hair was undone, clothes were drab, wrinkled and had numerous stains and crumbs from food she had eaten several days previously. She had gained 50 pounds and had developed permanent frown lines, hypertension, headaches and stomach cramps. She had started having sleep problems and had begun drinking 3 glasses of wine per night thinking that it would help her sleep better. The doctor asked, “Have you been under stress lately?” “No more than usual,” she replied. The doctor then gave her a depression screen and a prescription for an antidepressant and referred her to a psychiatrist. With despair and mixed feelings, Peaches discussed her visit to the doctor with her younger sister Denise and her friend Gail. Much to her surprise her sister revealed that she had been taking medicine for depression with good results for the past 8 months. Both her sister and friend encouraged her to follow through with seeing the psychiatrist. They had been praying that she would get in counseling for the past couple of years.
This scenario represents some of the common symptoms of depression, which indicate a need for medical treatment. Depression is an often-misunderstood medical problem. It is different from normal sadness resulting from the grieving process or disappointment. It is different from the blues, which is a temporary emotional state, which results from a loss. Unlike depression, “the blues” is not associated with loss of functioning or inability to cope. Depression is often characterized by emotional as well as physical symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, weight changes and trouble sleeping. Depression can cause other medical problems to get worse or become more difficult to treat such as high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic pain and headaches to name a few. If you think you may be suffering from depression you should see your doctor. A doctor can check you for other more serious medical problems that cause symptoms that look like depression such as glandular problems and anemia (low blood). A doctor can also refer you for counseling if there are particular stressors in your life that you are having trouble getting past. Finally, a doctor or professional counselor can help ensure that you are not developing complications of depression such as thoughts of suicide or disability. It is believed that as many as 80% of people who commit suicide were suffering from depression. Depression is also a leading cause of disability in the United States.
About the author of this article:
Kim B. Jones-Fearing, MD is a Board-Certified Psychiatrist in private practice in Burtonsville and Columbia Maryland.