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Depression Can Kill

Tragically, only one-third of those suffering what William Shakespeare called "too much sadness," and author and depression survivor William Styron has called "the howling tempest in the brain" ever seek treatment. Of those who get treated, "few received adequate treatment," according to the National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association, and "only 1 depressed person in 10 received adequate treatment."

The myth is that people who can't climb out of the emotional quicksand lack strength of character. But "depression is not a moral weakness," Dr. Freeman says. "It's a medical illness with clear biological roots."

It's also increasingly treatable--a major medical triumph. With the combination of therapies now available, Dr. McIntyre says, "as many as 85 percent of people with major depression have fairly good results."

Many other diseases can cause depression, among them: thyroid conditions, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, hormonal imbalances, multiple sclerosis, and several cancers. Treating the underlying disease usually resolves the depression.

However, depression may go hand-in-hand with a chronic illness that does not directly cause it, for example, arthritis or heart disease. Doctors call this "co-morbidity." When this happens, treating the depression often makes it easier to live with the other condition.

Depression treatments include both drug and non-drug therapies.

Fatal Effects of Depression

October 21, 1998

Mention death from depression, and most people think: suicide. But depression is a killer even for those who do not take their own lives.

In a new study of people hospitalized for a broad variety of illnesses, German researchers report that compared with those who are not depressed, the depressed hospital patients are almost twice as likely to die within two years.

The researchers conducted psychological assessments on 454 people as they were being admitted to a German teaching hospital for conditions varying from heart disease, to gastrointestinal disorders, to cancer. Then they followed all of these people for two years.

Those who were judged depressed when admitted were 1.9 times more likely to die within 24 months. This effect was strongest among those with heart disease, but it extended to the other illnesses as well.

The depression screening test was a quick seven-question instrument that can be administered in two minutes. The researchers urge hospital physicians to screen for depression because it is such a strong risk factor for premature death.