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Battling Black Clouds

Depression can be a very debilitating condition, and a new study shows that many people who suffer from it do not get adequate treatment.

Medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay explained on The Early Show Wednesday that research shows many Americans suffer from major depression at some point in their lives.

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that about 16 percent of the U.S. adult population will have an episode of major depression at some time in their life. And about 32 million Americans had an episode of major depression in the last year. Senay says half of those with major depression during the past year had received some type of treatment, but only 22 percent said they got adequate treatment.

Depression also contributes to many lost days of work and other illnesses. Another study estimated that depression costs employers $44 billion annually, says Senay.

To identify people suffering from depression, a government panel recently recommended primary care physicians screen all of their adult patients for depression. Senay says primary care physicians are in a good position to observe people who might be suffering from depression without realizing it.

Doctors can diagnose depression by asking their patients two simple questions:

  1. Over the past two weeks, have you felt down, depressed and hopeless?
  2. Over the past two weeks, have you felt little interest or pleasure in doing things?

If a doctor gets a yes answer to either one of those two questions, the patient should be further evaluated.

Depression is a constant feeling. Feeling blue for a couple of days is not a sign of suffering from depression. Senay says depression is a much more persistent problem that can interfere with many aspects of life.

Symptoms include hopelessness or helplessness, sadness, despair, a lack of interest in activities that one may normally enjoy, a change in appetite, either an increase or a decrease in appetite, difficulty sleeping and overwhelming fatigue.

There are a number of treatments for depression — from psychotherapy to different medications. Senay says new research has identified regions of the brain associated with depression that may someday open up new areas for treatment.

But, she says, the important thing is for people to find a treatment that works for them. Once a patient is identified, they must get effective treatment and follow-up support to make sure that the treatment works.