January 13, 2003 – Erasing Stigma of Depression 

Erasing stigma of depression

Like any other disease, depression is best treated if diagnosed early and correctly. Unfortunately, the disease still carries an unfair stigma and is often hidden by the patient or misdiagnosed by the medical community.

“One of the real tragedies of depression is that people can be treated successfully, but often are not,” said Dr. Alberto Colombi, PPG’s corporate medical director. “Patients may hide or deny their illness because they consider it a weakness of character instead of a disease of the brain -- which it is. Or, they simply may be misdiagnosed. Treating depression through drugs and psychotherapy isn’t costly, but not treating it can cause major disruptions in a person’s work, family and other relationships.”

An employee’s primary care physician (PCP) often is in the best position to make the assessment and recommend treatment.

“Unfortunately, a PCP may not be equipped to deal with the disease or won’t refer the patient to a psychiatrist,” Colombi said.

“There’s a real disconnect in the health-care system when it comes to depression, and PPG is working with insurers and providers to help PCPs recognize the problem and recommend the appropriate treatment. This is a legitimate disease, and we need to align the health-care resources so they’re available and receptive when a patient seeks help.”

Employees can also contact their local Employee Assistance Program representative for confidential help in accessing care for stress- or depression-related concerns, Colombi said.

Causes, symptoms of depression

According to the National Mental Health Association, there are numerous causes of depression. People with the disease may have too little or too much of brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters, which can cause or contribute to depression. Other potential causes and contributors include negative thinking patterns; side effects of some medications; having certain serious illnesses such as cancer or diabetes; a family history of depression; and difficult life situations, such as divorce or a loved one’s death. In addition, being a woman doubles the chances of developing depression, according to the association.

“Certain parts of the year -- such as the holiday season -- are times of great stress for many people and a potential trigger for depression,” said Colombi. “There are many ways to avoid becoming depressed throughout the year. These include setting realistic expectations, building a strong support network of family and friends, avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, and focusing on the future instead of the past.”

While some people may pass off depression as simply the “blues” or the “blahs,” there are warning signs that should not be ignored. According to the National Mental Health Association, a person should seek professional help if he or she is experiencing five or more of the following symptoms for at least two weeks:

  • Persistent sad, anxious or empty moods.
  • Sleeping too much or too little, or waking up in the middle of the night or early morning.
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss, or increased appetite and weight gain.
  • Restlessness and irritability.
  • Persistent physical symptoms that don’t respond to treatment, such as chronic pain or digestive disorders.
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions.
  • Fatigue or loss of energy.
  • Feeling guilty, hopeless or worthless.
  • Thoughts of suicide or death.

“People should not be afraid to seek help when they are depressed, and they also shouldn’t hesitate to offer or suggest getting help to someone they feel may be depressed,” said Colombi. “We need to get past the outdated views of depression and accept that it’s a real disease that can and should be treated as such.”

Did you Know?

  • Clinical depression affects more than 19 million Americans each year.
  • Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression.
  • About one in every eight women can expect to develop clinical depression.
  • Depression in women is misdiagnosed approximately 30 to 50 percent of the time.
  • More than 80 percent of people who seek treatment for depression show improvement, but fewer than half of those suffering from depression actually seek treatment.
  • Married people have a lower rate of depression than those living alone do.
  • Unhappily married people have the highest rates of depression. Happily married men have the lowest rates.

(Source: Various sources cited by the National Mental Health Association.)

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