For every 10 people with symptoms of depression, 8 will improve within 6 months, whether or not they seek help. Of course both the cause and the nature of depression will vary from person to person and even on these statistics it still leaves 2 out of 10 who will remain depressed two years later.
Spotting the signs of depression in ourselves for the first time can actually be quite tricky. We’re used to identifying physical upsets and very often these are some of the first signs to manifest themselves. Many a person has gone to the doctor with an upset stomach, problems with sleeping and difficulty concentrating to be told they may be suffering from depression
It’s time to see your family doctor if you feel your mental state isn’t improving or may be getting worse. This is likely to manifest itself in a number of physical and emotional ways but you’ll probably also find you experience a lack of interest in friends, family, hobbies, and work. The real acid test is when you find yourself thinking that people would be happier if you weren’t around and there seems little point in going on. At this point you may be wondering whether to cut out the middle man and go straight to a psychiatrist?
Depression is now so common that your family doctor will be well informed as to its nature and what to suggest so far as treatment is concerned. In many cases you may find you are unable to see a psychiatrist directly because they only accept referrals from people like your family doctor.
Because depression can result from a number of different causes your family doctor may ask a whole series of questions about your lifestyle. For example, they may want to know if you use drugs or alcohol, whether you are taking any medication, or herbal remedies. Any of these may be the cause of depression. They may take blood samples to see whether you have any physical imbalances that can cause depressive symptoms. The doctor will probably also be interested to know if depression runs in your family. He or she may also want to know if anything has triggered your current moods - for example stress at work or issues within relationships or the family. If, after consultation and following the recommended treatment things don’t improve, it may be suggested that you need more specialized help.
Older people in particular have grown up in a period when concepts such as stress and depression mean very little to them. Some may feel it’s just a normal part of getting old to feel sad and useless. To some extent the wider society has a lot to answer for in propagating these stereotypes. Older people often feel their low mood isn’t a proper illness and therefore isn’t something they should bother the doctor about. However, many older people take medication because they need it for other problems. Some of these actually cause depression as a side effect. If the doctor isn’t told, they can’t make the changes that might lift the depression.
Fortunately, age is no barrier when it comes to seeing a psychiatrist. If a psychiatrist is recommend your family doctor will get the ball rolling. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in the treatment of mood disorders and emotional distress. If it is suggested you see a psychiatrist you should put aside at least one hour for your first meeting. The psychiatrist will want to get a broad picture of your background, your health over the years, previous emotional problems, things that are happening in your life and whether you can think of anything that may have triggered your depression. You may be surprised to find the psychiatrist suggesting some very practical solutions as well as options involving other health professionals and maybe even your family. It all depends on your personal circumstances and preferences. You won’t be forced into anything you’d rather not do.
If you choose not to follow the treatment options it is possible you may find that things improve on their own. If not, and especially if your depression has lasted for months or years, the chances are you are needlessly delaying getting better.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.