When you see your doctor for a physical checkup, do you consider your mind as well?

When you see your doctor for a physical checkup, do you consider your mind as well?

Wellness comes from your mind as well as your body, but mental health is frequently overlooked. Patients who have no reservations discussing their physical health will not talk about concerns about their mental health. But you may be surprised to know that depression is usually first identified in a primary-care setting, not in a mental health provider’s office.

Depression is a real illness. The National Institute of Mental Health says research has shown there are real differences in the brains of people who have depression compared with those who don’t. It appears the parts of the brain that regulate mood, sleep, appetite and behavior don’t function normally.

An estimated 20 million Americans suffer clinical depression. It can affect anyone, although women are more likely than men to have it. It is caused by a combination of biological, psychological and social factors. It is more severe than “feeling sad.”  While prolonged sadness is one of the symptoms, depression causes problems with your ability to function in your daily life. It can, in fact, have more impact on your life than arthritis, hypertension, chronic lung disease or diabetes.

The illness can look very different in people but symptoms include:

Persistent sadness, anxiety or feeling “empty”  Sleeping too little or too much Loss of or increase in appetite Loss of interest in activities and friends Feeling restless or irritable Loss of focus or being indecisive Feeling exhausted Feeling hopeless, helpless or worthless Physical pains that have no medical causes (headaches, stomach aches, etc.) Thoughts of suicide or death.

It’s important to be aware of the symptoms and talk to your doctor if you have some of these symptoms. There are other medical conditions that could cause some of the same symptoms and should be considered. Just as your primary care physician refers you to a cardiologist if you have heart problems, he or she can refer you to a mental health professional for treatment.

Only about 20 percent of those needing it will actually get treatment. Without it, the risks of developing many other illnesses including heart disease increases. Depressed patients usually don’t have the energy or the will to exercise, eat right and take medications properly worsening their overall health.

The good news – depression is highly treatable. Health experts usually recommend a combination of medication and “talk” therapy. Each case of depression is as unique as the person with the illness, so while many patients see improvement in as little as four to six weeks after starting treatment some may need to try several medications before finding what works best. Persistence pays in the treatment of depression.