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Recognizing and Treating Depression

by Guy Diamond, PhD

November 5, 2014

National Depression Screening Day, which took place on October 9, is held each year during Mental Illness Awareness Week and has roots in connecting individuals across the nation with support services and mental health education. Guy Diamond, PhD, is the Director of the Center for Family Intervention Science and of the Couple and Family Therapy PhD Program at the College of Nursing and Health Professions

Have you ever felt down, blue or sad?  Yes, of course. We all have.  We might even say we are depressed. But clinical depression is something more.  When people have depression they might have a hard time sleeping at night, either falling asleep or staying asleep. Or, even after a good night of sleep, they still feel tired all day. Sometimes they eat too much or too little. Sometimes they find ourselves crying a lot, or getting overly irritated even over small things. People struggling with depression may also feel hopeless about life, critical about themselves, and might even think about suicide. 

Many people might feel some of these symptoms some of the time, but for people who are seriously depressed, they will feel many of these things at the same time and for longer than two weeks. These problems will also begin to affect their functioning. The depression may cause problems with school, work, friends, and family. In fact, depression can have a big impact on those around you. Friends and family are all affected when one person struggles with clinical depression.

So what do you do if this is you or you know someone who feels like this? The best thing to do is to get screened by a professional. It might be your medical doctor or a mental health provider. Now lots of people say, “Oh, going to a doctor is a sign of weakness. I can get through this on my own.”  Maybe you can. Some episodes of depression seem to run their own course.  But that could mean 9 to 12 months of feeling so sad you are unable to get things done that you used to, or you lose interest in things that you used to like doing. This suffering is old school. Maybe our parents’ generation was embarrassed about mental health challenges. But we now know that it is a medical problem like many other problems and can be successfully treated.  That is, people who are depressed no longer have to suffer as they once did. There are very effective treatments for this problem. Medication, cognitive behavioral therapy and couples or family therapy have all been effective for treating depression.

If you do go to a professional, they will ask you a few questions about the kinds of struggles I have mentioned here.  First, they will want to get a better understanding of your symptoms and some of the personal or interpersonal problems that might be contributing to the depression. If you seem to have enough of these problems that have persisted for a while, then there might be a discussion about treatment. Medical doctors can prescribe medication but do not usually provide therapy.  Some form of talk therapy is usually recommended as the first level of treatment. If after 6 to 8 weeks things are not getting better, medication can be added to the treatment. For severe depression, a combination of medication and talk therapy- usually cognitive behavioral therapy- has been shown to be more effective.

Fortunately there are two new mental health services at Drexel that can provide talk therapy.  The Couple and Family Therapy Department and the Psychology Department now both have student and public mental health programs that can provide services for depressed students or adults. The Couple and Family Therapy Department can be reached at 215.571.3409 or Couple and family therapists work with clients on a variety of concerns, including family relationships, blended and stepfamilies, cultural identity, communication, divorce, parenting, grief and loss, anxiety and depression, trauma, addiction, sexuality, anger management, school concerns, life transitions, and body image/eating. The Drexel Psychological Services Center can be reached at 215.553.7128.

In addition to these services, Drexel University also offers free, confidential counseling services to currently enrolled full-time undergraduate and graduate students at the Counseling Center, which can be reached at 215.895.1415.

On this National Depression Screening Day, we are reminded that no one needs to suffer alone with depression. There is a lot of good help out there and we recommend anyone who wants to learn more should contact one of the resources above.