Recognizing signs and symptoms of depression


Q. My wife wants a separation, my job is being downsized, and I think I’m depressed. The problem is that I’m not sure. Is this really depression that should be treated or is it just a life situation that I need to wait out?

A. Most people use the word depression loosely. When people feel sadness, discontented, isolated or many other negative emotions, they will often say “I’m depressed.” Many times they have little understanding of the condition.

Actual depression can range from mild, which often does not need to be treated, to severe, which must be treated professionally since the individual often cannot continue to function. Since you are unsure if you are actually depressed, you are unlikely to be in the severe range.

According to Deborah Serani, a psychologist who specializes in mood disorders, mild depression often abates when treated with exercise, meditation and situational changes. If you attempt these, and the feelings go away, you were likely mildly depressed or simply going through a rough patch.

When depression reaches the moderate range, it begins to interfere with one’s daily functioning. Someone with moderate depression may have difficulty going to work, be unable to resolve personal issues or be stuck in procrastination mode. If you are noticing that you are feeling hopeless, becoming irritable, having difficulty concentrating or isolating from others, it is time to seek help.

If your physician prescribed medication for moderate depression, it is likely that it will have few, if any, side effects. Do not become fearful that medication will turn you into a zombie. If your physician suggests psychotherapy, do not become fearful. Gone are the days when people laid on a couch and talked for years. Most therapy today is interactive and geared toward problem solving in as few sessions as possible.

If you feel that you do not need professional help, consider purchasing, “Depression: A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed” by Lee Coleman, Ph.D. The book explains depression in layman’s terms and provides some self-help exercises that you may find valuable.

Q. I told my doctor that I was feeling depressed after a situation at work. He put me on Celexa. Can you tell me more about it? Is it addictive or difficult to stop?

Celexa (generic Citalopram) is classified as a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor or an SSRI. It works by increasing the amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. Depression is likely caused, in part, by the lack of serotonin.

Many people fail to understand that it takes Celexa, or any SSRI, anywhere from four to six weeks to reach a therapeutic level. Therefore, you may not think the medication is working initially. Since it takes so long for SSRIs to be effective, they are not drugs of abuse or addiction. People cannot pop a Celexa and suddenly feel less depressed. They cannot take more SSRIs and feel high or intoxicated. They are not, as some people call them, “happy pills.”

If you experience side effects from Celexa they will likely be short-lived. Some of the early problems can be dizziness, headaches, nausea and insomnia. Additionally, some people have a lowered sex-drive. Many, if not most, of these side effects disappear within the first week or 10 days of taking the medication. If the side effects continue, contact your physician. There are many other medications that can be used to alleviate the symptoms of depression.

Before you stop taking Celexa, consult your doctor. If you stop it suddenly or too quickly, you will likely have anxiety symptoms. If you follow directions from your doctor, you should have few problems.

Taking these medications does not mean you are crazy, mentally ill or weak. Most people go through unsettling periods in their lives. Often medication can help one regain a sense of balance.

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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City. She currently teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. Email questions to drnryburn@gmail.com. They will not be answered personally, but could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all emails remain confidential.