Officials: Depression increasing by 20 percent in U.S.

Tuesday , August 19, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Standard-Examiner correspondent

OGDEN - The tragic death of comedian Robin Williams has brought to light once again, the growing problem of those suffering from mental illness.

According to the National Institutes of Health, depression in particular is increasing by about 20 percent each year, affecting 15 million Americans in a given year. Weber Human Services reports 5.4 percent of adults and 4.6 percent of youth in Utah are in need of mental health treatment and many of these people are not receiving any services at all.

The National Alliance on Mental Illnesses describes major depression as a mood state that is far beyond temporarily feeling sad or blue. The condition is a serious medical illness, affecting thoughts, feelings, behavior and physical health.

“There are many causes of depression and a lot of work still needs to be done and is being done to find the causes and triggers,” said Laura Stevenson, Weber Human Services communication specialist and mental health first aid instructor. “Sometimes depression can be triggered by a distressing and uncontrollable event or a traumatic event. Ongoing stress and anxiety can also contribute.”

Other times it can be linked to a family history,” she said. Serious medical issues or terminal illnesses can also result in feelings of depression. Or in others it is a chemical imbalance that affects the neurotransmitters in the brain.

“It is something that affects people of all classes, races, genders, and can strike at any time in the life of a person,” Stevenson said. “There are so many members of our community who are suffering in silence and don’t know how to approach their friends or family about symptoms they are experiencing or how they are feeling. The changes caused by depression are often scary and uncomfortable and too often there is no outlet for those experiencing them.”

Symptoms of depression include fatigue, lack of energy, irregular and unhealthy sleeping habits, headaches and unexplained aches and pains.

“Often people go to their primary care physician experiencing these symptoms and they fail to recognize that they are physical signs of depression, Stevenson said.

Depressed people will also withdraw from others, neglect responsibilities, lose motivation and neglect personal appearance.

“Many times we may see a coworker or friend experiencing these symptoms and assume that they are being lazy or that they just don’t have ambition and we never ask how they are doing to see if there might be a completely different problem going on,” Stevenson said.

There are also psychological signs of depression. They include sadness, anxiety, guilt, feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, self-criticism, confusion, thoughts of suicide or death. These signs are sometimes the hardest to see and yet studies have found that if asked, most people will open up about their feelings of hopelessness as well as their thoughts about death and suicide.

There are many different types of treatment available in the community ranging from counseling to self-help strategies. NAMI suggests people seek out counseling and ask about different medications that may help.

“The biggest thing that anyone can do to help a friend or loved one is to start the conversation about how they are feeling. It is too easy to assume that people can take care of things alone or that the symptoms of depression or any illness will fade all on their own,” Stevenson said. “Sometimes a simple question or sign of support is all it takes for someone to open up and seek help.”

Weber Human Services offers a Mental Illness First Aid course that gives participants the tools they need to start and continue those conversations and how to lead loved ones and friends to the help they need.

The next class will be held Sept. 24 and 25 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Weber Human Services, 237 26th Street on the 3rd floor in the training room. A $25 fee includes all materials as well as certification.

Stevenson said the course teaches participants how to help someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis or who is developing a mental health issue. It also demystifies and debunks myths surrounding mental illness and encourages participants to rid their minds of the stigma that is attached to mental illness.

“The national average for the delay of treatment for a mental illness is 10 years. This means that people are suffering countless minutes, hours, days, months, and even years before they seek help from family, friends, and professionals,” she said. “And as we have seen from the tragic case of Robin Williams and the tragic cases on the news every day, some never get the chance to seek help.”

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