Expert Q&A: Depression Is ‘Very Treatable’

Many who are depressed never seek treatment

Q: How can someone learn about depression?

A: A good place to start is the National Institute of Mental Health. I give my patients very informative, easy-to-read pamphlets on depression from NIMH. They have an excellent website, with information in English and Spanish.

Q: What should people with depression do?

A: Seek treatment. Don’t wait. Depression is very treatable. So often, people blame themselves for feeling the way they do. And they worry about the social stigma attached to depression. Studies show that people wait far too long before seeking help; an average of eight years! Seeking treatment can prevent a great deal of unnecessary suffering and disability.

Q: What should people tell their doctors?

A: People need to talk to their primary health care providers about all their symptoms, physical and emotional. They need to make sure that the provider takes the time to listen. Sometimes there are medical conditions that cause depression, like hypothyroidism, and those should be ruled out. If depression is diagnosed, the health care provider may choose to treat the patient or send the patient to a specialist, depending on the situation.

Q: Are you hopeful that a cure for depression may be found some day?

A: I am very hopeful that there will be breakthroughs in the treatment of depression in my lifetime. Many of the medicines we’ve been using were discovered to be effective for depression by chance. Now we’re seeking new, more targeted treatments thanks to research into what happens in the brains of people with depression. Some of these treatments are showing great promise. I am also excited about research that will help us select the right treatment for each individual. This is an exciting time in brain research, and it can only benefit our patients.

Dr. Mayada Akil, is a professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University, in Washington, and a senior adviser to the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, part of the National Institutes of Health.

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