Health Tips Tuesday: adult depression

(WGGB/WSHM) – Country music singer Naomi Judd’s recent death has brought to the forefront the issue of mental health and depression and how it is impacting adults.

Dr. Stuart Anfang, chief of adult psychology at Baystate Health, spoke with us about the signs to look out for and effective treatments.

What are the signs to look out for in adults suffering from depression?

Anfang: “So we look for what we call the neurovegetative signs of depression that easily includes sleep disturbance, appetite disturbance, decreased energy, decreased interest in things, sometimes thoughts to hurt yourself or suicidal thoughts…Those are among the signs that we look for to diagnose depression. Of course, we want to rule out other things and medical concerns or other psychiatric illnesses that might have some of the similar symptoms.”

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that an estimated 21 million adults had at least one deprsssive episode. That number represents 8.4 percent of all adults in the U.S. Is adult depression increasing?

Anfang: “So what I would say is that certainly or awareness of depression and kind of the manifestations of depression have escalated certainly over the last two years. During COVID, I think that the isolation, the disruption caused by COVID, certainly now the economic stressers, and other sort of global stressers all have increased peoples symptom mentology and also probably increased peoples awareness of and hopefully desire to get some help, so overall we are probably seeing an icrease in at least people seeking out help.”

What are the most effective treatments for depression?

Anfang: “So depression symptoms exsist on the spectrum. One can have mild symptoms that may be not causing a whole lot of functional impairment in terms of work or school or everyday life to more severe symptoms that are really making it very difficult or impossible to function effectively at work or at school or in your everyday life and might even cause safety concerns, concerns that might mean you need a higher level of care. So depending on the symptoms, a treatment might include psychotherapy, which can include things like cognitive behavioral therapies, or motivational threrapies, or more intensive physco threapies, or medications which might include anti-depressent medications, which are very effective and often the combination of medications in pyschothreapy is often very effective depending on the severity of symptoms. Most depressions are managed by primary care physcians, at least in the mild stages, but sometimes, if symptoms are more severe or if the intial efforts of treatment are not successful, that might warrant a referral to a behavioral health specialist.”

At what point would you say someone should seek out help?

Anfang: “So typically, you would think about somebody who’s having some functional impairment where it’s really interferring in their ability to enjoy and be productive in their everyday life. You want to be mindful of those symptoms that I talked about – sleep disturbance, appetite disturbance, energy, depressed mood, irretability, tearfullness. Certainly, if anybody has thoughts about feeling that they were better off dead or thoughts to hurt themselves or have actually tried something to hurt themselves, that would be a real red flag warning sign to trigger reaching out for help and a good place to start is your primary care physician. That would be the best place to start.”