Offering Hope to the Emotionally Depressed

Article excerpt

Norbert R. Myslinski is associate professor of neuroscience at the University of Maryland. He is also director of the International Brain Bee and Maryland Brain Awareness Week.

Based on advances in our understanding of the brain and its response to stress, promising new therapies for depressive disorders are on the horizon.

I will never forget July 6, 2001. It was a Friday and we started the day full of hope and the promise of recovery. Heinz, my husband of 24 years, felt better this morning than he had in months. He had struggled with his third bout of manic depression in over three decades. The shroud of hopelessness that had immobilized him for what seemed an eternity had lifted at last. For the first time in months, he rose early and full of energy to work out. I was relieved, elated.

At 8:00 a.m., the phone rang twice. I picked it up, but the line was dead. A sudden rush of fear overcame me, and I ran across the driveway to the guesthouse where Heinz used to work out. It was there I found his lifeless body. In the act of ultimate despair, he hung himself.

Heinz left without a word. There were no goodbyes for our twins, Paul and Stephanie. There was no goodbye for me. He was 59 years old, a world-class entrepreneur, a business leader, a man who gave back to the community, a man loved by his family and those around him. A man who created opportunities for thousands but in the end, saw no opportunity for himself.*

*Reproduced with permission from Breaking Ground, Breaking Through: The Strategic Plan for Mood Disorders Research of the National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health. Published by the National Institute of Mental Health, Rockville, Maryland.

Life is an adventure, with many ups and downs. At times, we accomplish our objectives and gain various benefits and comforts; at other times, we stumble and fall, or the course of events puts us in difficult situations. Accordingly, our mood oscillates between joy and sorrow, elation and dejection.

Many people, however, find themselves stuck in a prolonged state of depression. Unable to shake off their gloomy feelings, they lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, and they no longer function normally. Moreover, their physical health declines, and their relationships with family and friends are adversely affected. They are suffering from clinical depression--a serious mood disorder, not a passing phase of feeling "blue."

Clinical depression can occur in several forms. The three main types are known as major depression (or unipolar depression), dysthymia, and bipolar disorder (or manic depression). Taken together, they appear to be the most common group of mental health problems in the world, affecting people of every race, culture, and ethnicity. While a small percentage of children are affected, the elderly are much more vulnerable.

It has been estimated that more than 20 million people in the United States suffer from depressive mood disorders. The cost in terms of lost productivity and medical care runs into tens of billions of dollars per year.

Symptoms and causes

Major depression is a disabling condition that severely hampers the patient's abilities of working, eating, sleeping, and relating to others. Each episode lasts two or more weeks, and most patients go through cycles of remissions and relapses.

Symptoms of major depression include feelings of sadness, despair, and anxiety, as well as problems of fatigue, forgetfulness, and loss of concentration. The affected person may gain or lose a significant amount of weight, sleep too much or too little, and lose his ability to experience pleasure. This type of depression is also associated with suicides and increased risk of death. Different patients suffer from different combinations of these symptoms, and the level of severity varies from patient to patient and one episode to the next. …