Officials: Depression can affect anyone
By Rich Suwanski Messenger-Inquirer | Thursday, August 14, 2014
Mike Flaherty, chairman of the Owensboro Regional Suicide Prevention Coalition and a behavioral specialist with Daviess County Public Schools, works at his computer in a conference room at Burns Middle School on Wednesday.
It may be hard to fathom that a popular actor and comedian like Robin Williams could suffer from a major depressive disorder, but Mike Flaherty, chairman of the Owensboro Regional Suicide Prevention Coalition, said such illnesses know no bounds.
“It can cut across financial, socioeconomic, gender, ethnicity and age lines,” said Flaherty, a behavioral specialist with Daviess County Public Schools. “There are a lot of variables and pretty much anybody can be susceptible to depression.”
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Williams had been diagnosed with clinical depression and reportedly committed suicide Monday in California.
“We’re not talking about situational sadness,” Flaherty said. “Some of the common symptoms of major depressive disorder include high-level fatigue, sad demeanor, being ‘blank’ or bland, a loss of interest in things a person used to be interested in, withdrawing from social contact and sometimes an increase in irritability, crying, and expressing a sense of hopelessness.”
Flaherty said sadness affects a person’s mood, but clinical depression affects more areas of a person’s life.
“There are cognitive struggles,” Flaherty said. “You can’t concentrate as well, there are memory deficits, and there may also be physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive issues and pain.
“It has a more total effect on a person.”
Typically, there is no definitive cause for the onset of depression, Flaherty said.
“Most believe it’s a medical issue,” he said. “You really don’t ‘catch’ it. It’s more a part of the (body’s) system where heredity can be involved.
“There are incidents that can trigger a depressive episode, but, generally, that person may be predisposed to it anyway. For example, a traumatic loss leads to grieving, and that can trigger a depressive episode.”
Mental health care officials have estimated that between 5 and 9 percent of people have suffered from depression at some point in their lives.
“There’s a wide range of severity, from a mild form of depression where people might never get treatment, to a more serious form that might have some thinking suicide,” Flaherty said. “The latest statistics show that 90 percent or more people who have committed suicide have had a mental disorder at the time of their death.
“And most frequently, it’s bipolar disorder or a major depressive disorder.”
Young children can also suffer from depression. The child may exhibit symptoms, such as irritability and acting out, or an elementary school child regressing to bed-wetting because the youngster can’t express what’s going on inside them, Flaherty said.
“That may make it harder to diagnose,” he said. “They have limited understanding of their emotional states and can’t get across what they’re feeling, so they may act out, show aggression, lose interest in their friends or start using drugs or alcohol.”
Once a person is diagnosed with clinical depression, Flaherty said research shows that a combination of therapy and medicine have been a “more successful” treatment approach.
“There are new anti-depressants now that show great effectiveness and help reduce depressive symptoms,” he said.
Williams reportedly had bipolar disorder, a mental disorder characterized by wide mood swings. A person suffering from bipolar disorder will experience the highest of highs alternating with the lowest of lows, health care officials said. Such manic and depressive episodes can last anywhere from a few hours up to months.
The manic episodes will consist of extreme happiness and hyperactivity. In that state, a person may have racing thoughts and be unable to sleep or sit still. During a depressive episode, a person will feel extreme sadness, helpless and hopeless.
John Griffith, the vice-president of the local chapter of National Alliance on Mental Health, a support group, said people who have depressive symptoms should seek help from their primary care physician.
“Medication is the key,” Griffith said. “Medication is what enables a person to stabilize their feelings, going from highs and lows to maintaining an even keel.”
Griffith said that even though there is help available, some people feel there is a stigma attached to mental illness, and some don’t come forward to seek help. Some people may be aware of their mental health needs, although some are not.
“If a friend or family member sees the symptoms in a loved one, it’s a good idea to tell them they might want to get checked out, especially if there is any suicidal thinking,” Flaherty said. If the person has talked about suicide, “that means the disorder is at the moderate to severe level and they’ve been experiencing the negative symptoms for a while.”
According to author and psychiatrist Harry Croft, it’s often easier for people to admit going to drug rehab for treatment that to a psychiatric facility for treatment of depression.
Rich Suwanski, 270-691-7315, or [email protected].