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National Mental Health Week

Posted Sep 14 2008 5:29pm

Next week, October 1st through 7th, is National Mental Health Awareness week. As part of this effort, October 5th has been designated as National Depression Screening Day. It provides an opportunity for people to be confidentially screened for depression free of cost. The screening is offered across the country and will be conducted at clinics, hospitals and private therapists. The Screening for Mental Health, Inc. website has a link for finding a screening center in your area, as well as a link for an online screener.

Two years ago, in honor of National Depression Screening Day, Linda Hamilton (best known as Sarah Connor, the extremely-buff-for-a-woman heroine of the first two Terminator movies) talked about her life as with bipolar disorder and how finally getting treatment has greatly increased her quality of life. She is not the first celebrity to go public with a mood disorder. About.com has an entire page devoted to Bipolar Celebrities including: Sting, Ben Stiller, Patty Duke Astin, DMX and Dick Cavett. And there is a long list of famous people who are/were known to suffer from both bipolar and unipolar depression.

We tend to think that depression is easily recognizable (e.g., people feel sad, lethargic and hopeless), but depression can manifest itself differently depending on the individual. Because there is no One Way to Be Depressed, you may not recognize it as such. In some people, depression may be expressed through irritability, snappiness, anger, agitation, or even physical pain. Young children may say they are sick when there is nothing physically wrong with them, refuse to go to school, cling to a parent, or worry about a parent dying. Adolescents may sulk, get into trouble at school, be negative, grouchy, and feel misunderstood. Men are less likely than women to report feeling sad or hopeless, and instead often manifest depression through use of alcohol or drugs, throwing themselves compulsively into their work, engaging in risky behavior, putting themselves in harm's way and, sometimes, becoming physically abusive.

As Dr. Steve Kraus pointed out in his blog, research is now showing that about 10% of men show signs of post-partum depression -- twice the incidence of that in the general population of men. Before this, it seems that researchers generally hadn't bothered to ask fathers about their mood in the first few months after their wives gave birth. Not surprising since the issue of female post-partum depression has only been seriously studied in the past decade or so.

The National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) has good, basic information on depression, including two downloadable booklets. One is a thorough overview of depression and the other contains anecdotes illustrating how different people manifest depression.

Symptoms of depression are:
* Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood
* Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
* Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
* Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
* Decreased energy, fatigue, being "slowed down"
* Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
* Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
* Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
* Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
* Restlessness, irritability
* Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain

You can also check out the Goldberg Depression Questionnaire. Once you take it, you will see a comparison of your results to a national sample. If your score shows that you are experiencing a certain level of signs of depression, it will recommend that you see a professional. If you suspect that you might possibly be suffering from depression, it is most definitely worth checking out one of these options.

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