Depression. We see the term everywhere, but often miss it when it’s staring us right in the face. It’s easily misunderstood and misdiagnosed. People who suffer from depression are sometimes accused of being lazy, unfriendly and/or overly dramatic. They may have a difficult time completing a task or making a decision and can seem edgy, over- reactive, and preoccupied with ‘aches and pains’. They often visit multiple physicians and undergo a variety of medical procedures because of their unexplained physical symptoms. According to this article on WebMD – it’s estimated that one third of people with a chronic disease have depression. And, the Family Caregiver Alliance conservatively estimates that one fifth of family caregivers suffer from it. Are you or your loved one one of them?
There are a multitude of reasons depression shows up when it does. Sometimes unresolved anger, sadness, grief or fear are the predominant triggers. Other times, it’s a change in medication or brain chemistry resulting from an illness or injury. Identifying depression and knowing when to seek professional help can be tricky. Let’s look at a few examples:
- Becky moved her mother in with her family after her dad’s death. Other than hypothyroidism stabilized with medication, and arthritis in her knees, her mother’s in good health. Part of the move-in agreement included her mother taking care of the kids during the summer so Becky and her husband could avoid paying for child-care. The move went smoothly and everything seemed to be going well until one day when Becky called to check in and the kids answered. When she asked where grandma was – the kids said she was taking a nap. The first time this happened, Becky didn’t give it much thought. Then, as the pattern continued, she began getting angry with her mother, who she felt wasn’t holding up her end of the bargain.
After a few weeks, Becky shared this information with a co-worker, who asked if her mother might be depressed. This had never entered Becky’s mind, yet after a visit with the Primary Care Physician, Becky’s mother was put on an anti-depressant and referred to a therapist. Within a couple of months, her mother was much more engaged and didn’t have the need for a daily nap. Would you have thought Becky’s mom was depressed?
- Jim, age 68, retired after working 40 years as a Chief Information Officer (CIO) at a hospital. He’s been an avid runner, loves camping, fishing and, basically anything outdoors and was so excited to finally ‘be free’ to be outside. Three months into his retirement, he was diagnosed with coronary heart disease, after seeing his Primary Care Physician complaining of jaw pain. The cardiologist was able to do a stent procedure within one day to open a 99% blocked artery, sparing Jim from having a massive heart attack. It’s been six months since the procedure and Jim has mainly been hanging out around the house. He’s no longer running, and canceled his plans for a big fishing trip with his sons. His wife has noticed that he’s going to bed way later than usual and seems to be waking up around 4:30 AM every morning. Also, he’s letting days go by without shaving, and seems quite irritable. At the follow-up appointment with his cardiologist, his wife brought up her concerns. Jim’s heart checked out fine. His cardiologist suspected depression and recommended evaluation by a psychiatrist for possible medication, and visits with a psychotherapist. Would you have thought Jim was depressed?
If you or your loved one have been experiencing symptoms like the ones mentioned above and haven’t considered the possibility of depression, see your Primary Care Physician or other physician to rule it out. Getting ahead of depression is the key to a quicker recovery. For more information on the signs and symptoms of depression, visit the National Institute of Mental Health.
April Koontz is a family caregiver and founder of Daughters Unite, the first social networking site created for caring daughters by caring daughters. April has a master’s degree in social work and has worked as an individual, group and family therapist and a product marketing manager in the health information technology field. She’s intensely committed to patient advocacy especially with the older adult population and helping individuals and families have meaningful conversations about end of life planning. She’s also a songwriter. You can check out her music at here: www.aprilkmusic.com.