Q: What is depression and what are the treatment options?
1 in 10 adults suffer from depression; a clinical illness in which certain chemicals in the brain are out of balance; mainly serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. Symptoms of depression can include changes in sleep habits, appetite, energy levels and mood, as well as low self-esteem, feelings of guilt, physical slowing or agitation and in worst case scenarios-thoughts of suicide.
The good news is that depression is a treatable illness. It affects each person differently and treatment options vary according to each individual’s symptoms and needs. Antidepressant medications work to restore the proper levels of brain chemicals and help relieve symptoms of depression. It often takes two to four weeks for these medications to start to have an effect and six to twelve weeks to realize their full effect. In addition to medication, other treatments include psychotherapy and ECT (electroconvulsive therapy)
The Behavioral Health Unit at University of Maryland Harford Memorial Hospital has inpatient and outpatient services to help those with serious mental illnesses like depression.
Ravikumar Bhalavat, MD
Q: How do I know if I am suffering from an anxiety disorder rather than just being “stressed out”?
Everyone feels stress and anxiety at points in their lives; before you give a speech, take a test or have a deadline at work. Stress is a normal response caused by external factors. When the external stressor disappears then so should one’s feelings of nervousness, unease, agitation, worry and/or tension.
If these feelings do not subside when the cause is no longer present and if they become pervasive and overwhelming and disrupt your ability to function adequately in your daily life, then it is time to consult your physician. Anxiety disorders, if not addressed, can negatively affect your long term physical and mental health. For example, they can lead to clinical depression, which may be more serious. The good news is that anxiety disorders are highly treatable. Anti-anxiety medication and/or psychotherapy have been proven to work well to relieve the symptoms of anxiety and allow patients to return to normal activities of daily life.
Richard Lewis, MD
Q: What does it mean to be bipolar? How is it treated?
Bipolar is a term used to describe the condition in which a person’s mood swings uncontrollably back and forth from high to low. Bipolar disorder, which used to be referred to as maniac-depressive disorder, is a serious mental health issue; if left untreated, it can have disastrous effects on a person’s quality of life and well-being.
In the maniac state, a person’s mood can be extremely high-spirited and unsettled. He/she often talks a lot, sleeps very little, and may engage in risky behaviors. When one’s mood swings the other way, he/she becomes extremely depressed and sometimes cannot function in the normal activities of daily life.
Although there is no cure for bipolar disorder, it can be successfully managed. Most often a combination of medication and behavioral therapy is prescribed. Risk of suicide and substance abuse is high with bipolar disorder and needs to be addressed with a mental health professional. People with bipolar disorder also need a strong support system in place and a willingness to face their issues head on in order to increase their chances of controlling the disorder long term.
Ravikumar Bhalavat, MD