Conquering depression today
'I didn't think there was anything wrong with me'
CNN Medical Unit
(CNN) -- For millions, depression stains every thought, every act, every moment. In fact, it will affect one person in four, in his or her life.
But it's more than a solitary struggle when friends and family have to watch a loved one descend into misery.
"If you look at a population of people who are untreated and have severe, major depression, 15 percent of people will eventually go on to kill themselves," says Dr. William McDonald of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
For most people, the feeling of depression is hard to grasp. But Colleen Millichap knows it well.
"I would sit, as if I was glued to a seat, for hours," she says. "'I must get up, and I must do this.' And it was almost as if I was paralyzed. I couldn't move. But I didn't think there was anything wrong with me."
"If you think you have depression, you probably do," concludes McDonald. "And I think if someone is sitting around ... and is thinking, 'Boy, I feel sort of sad and blue all the time, but I'm not really sure this qualifies,' you should go to your doctor about the symptoms you're having."
Antidepressant drugs may be the first treatment, and they're often effective. Ideally, drugs are used in conjunction with counseling.
For others, a more drastic step is required. Electroconvulsive therapy, also known as ECT or shock treatment, may sound barbaric to some but it's much safer than it was 50 years ago. And the truth is -- it works.
"Recent studies have shown an effectiveness of 80 to 90 percent" says McDonald. "And that's in patients who are extremely ill and a majority of whom have failed multiple other antidepressants. So ECT can be a life-saving treatment for these patients."
One downside is amnesia: The patient may forget things from the previous two to three days.
A newer therapy applies a strong magnetic field to the brain. In some patients, it may work as well as shock treatment, and without amnesia, but researchers are still studying when and where it's best used.
'I really had to nag her'
With persistence, patients nearly always find a treatment that offers at least some relief.
For Colleen Millichap, the turn-around was dramatic. "I was started on medication right away -- one that seems to be used a great deal for older people -- and that's Zoloft. And it was explained to me that it would be several weeks before I noticed any difference. In my case, it was four days!"
However, before any treatment can be tried, those who suffer depression must take the first step -- recognizing the symptoms and choosing to fight the disease.
"At first I had no success whatsoever," says Millichap's daughter, Denise. "And I really don't believe that she thought she had a problem. And I really had to nag her."
It may take time, and even trial-and-error, to find the treatment plan that works best. It may take time before a particular treatment takes effect.
But in time, those haunted by the disease can conquer it.
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