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Actress deals with depression on and off the screen

By Kat Carney
CNN Headline News

Cara Kahn: "I started to convince myself and realize that ... I have nothing to be embarrassed about. Depression is a real disease."

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(CNN) -- Right after graduating college, aspiring actress Cara Kahn was already known on MTV's "Real World Chicago" -- as the young woman diagnosed with depression.

"I actually started feeling symptoms of depression pretty young, the sleepiness, the anxiety, difficulty concentrating, crying spells," she says.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says that the most prevalent forms of depression are major depression and a less-intense form known as dysthymia. Then there's bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) when periods of depression alternate with periods of elation or mania.

In addition to the symptoms Kahn experienced, major depression can also cause anxiety, fatigue, feelings of guilt or chronic body aches not explained by another physical condition, according to the NIMH.

Kahn recalls that high school was especially difficult for her. "I remember thinking, "What's wrong with me? I would just cry for ... no apparent reason, and I would have to leave class."

Confused about where to turn for help, Kahn says, she confided her feelings to a close friend. "I didn't really want to admit that this could be something more serious than just teen anxiety or teen sadness."

It was Kahn's mother who suspected that her daughter needed professional help. "She was very in tune to what was going on. She actually made an appointment with a psychiatrist for me," Kahn said.


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Kahn's psychiatrist diagnosed the then-16 year old with depression. Over the next several years, Kahn says, a combination of medication and talk therapy put her depression into remission -- until she agreed to open up her life on MTV's 11th season of "Real World."

"When it was revealed on the "Real World" that I in fact suffer from depression and take medication to treat it every day, all the feelings of depression [and] the stigma, kind of came flooding back and I was pretty embarrassed."

Fans of the show reacted to Kahn's revelation. "I started getting fan letters from people across the country saying that they too suffer from depression. So, I wrote back to these people and would sort say, depression is nothing to be embarrassed about."

Asked if she believed her own advice, she said: "That's just it, as I'm writing all these things. I started to convince myself and realize that ... I have nothing to be embarrassed about. Depression is a real disease."

Kahn continues to raise awareness of depression by speaking on college campuses as a spokeswoman for GOAL or Go On And Live -- a campaign sponsored by a manufacturer of depression medications.

She says each time she talks about it, it gets easier. "It does get a little easier. I just really want people to understand that there's hope."

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