Depression an actual illness suffered by 18.8 million

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    By Sara Israelsen

    For Hayley Smith, her body was something she could control. When things got rough, she would eat.

    “For some people, the only way to get rid of the pain is drugs,” she said. But she found solace in food.

    “It”s really easy to throw up,” she said. “But that doesn”t help. You can never fill that need you have inside.”

    At first Smith didn”t know what that need was. She thought she was sad because she was bulimic. Now she knows she was bulimic because she was depressed. For the senior from El Paso, Texas, antidepressants helped her take control of her life – safely.

    For Smith, Prozac isn”t a monster or a dangerous drug; it”s a lifesaver.

    Smith has dealt with depression for three years before starting Prozac a month ago – a choice that changed her life.

    Smith described her depression as an invasion on her mind that prevented her from wanting to do anything fun. She saw the activities her roommates participated in and wanted to play, but lacked the energy.

    “People don”t understand that it feels like you have a fever,” she said. “Your mind is sick. It”s not a mood. [I was] always too depressed, feverish to really want to do anything.”

    This lack of energy is not Smith”s fault. Nor is it the fault of more than 18.8 million Americans suffering from depression in any given year.

    But Smith was in denial about her position until just recently.

    “I”d never really considered I was depressed,” she said. “I thought I was stupid, I was weak. A lot of people don”t believe in depression, they think it”s something you”re doing.”

    But the feelings of depression are real, like fatigue, feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, loss of interest in favorite activities, and inability to concentrate.

    “We all have bad days,” said Shawn Edgington who has a doctorate in counseling psychology and works at Canyon Counseling Center. “Real depression is a very different thing than an occasional bad day. It”s debilitating, it”s real.”

    Despite its status as a real illness, depression, along with many other mental illnesses, often carries a negative association, because people are misinformed.

    “I think very often people see it as a lack of willpower, a weakness, that if we just try hard enough and are faithful enough, we can overcome it by force of will,” said Dr. Robert Williams, a clinical psychologist in private practice. “But you don”t overcome a heart attack by force of will, you get help.”

    And that”s what people suffering from depression need to do, Williams said.

    “It”s important for people to understand that clinical depression really is a biochemical disorder,” he said. “There is a psychological aspect that can be treated in most cases of serious depression. It”s also a brain disorder that deserves a treatment just as much as any other kind of physical disorder.”

    One treatment for depression is cognitive therapy, where therapists talk to patients and try to help them sort out their feelings and frustrations.

    This has been very helpful for Smith who talks with her sister and a BYU counselor on a daily and monthly basis.

    In cognitive therapy, therapists encourage patients to look at upsetting events as representations of behavior, rather than a negative representation of self.

    Smith has learned through this theory that her different moods are ok.

    “You”re not a bad person if you get depressed,” she said. “I”m the one who knows.”

    The BYU counseling center also offers several different types of therapy including: individual psychotherapy or counseling, group therapy and medication therapy.

    But patients need not jump directly to a drug-based treatment plan. Williams said he addresses his patients” needs on a case-by-case basis.

    “Not everybody who is depressed is going to benefit from medication, but many do,” he said. “If a person is experiencing serious depression, because it is a brain disorder, it responds to medication that affects brain functioning. It”s not going to be helpful in every case, but if it”s serious depression my attitude is ”let”s find out if it”s helpful”.”

    But dealing with depression isn”t a solo process.

    Edgington said friends can help someone who is depressed by being supportive, listening and attending to their needs.

    Williams keeps a list of encouraging remarks in his office for depressed patients. He said it is important that friends don”t belittle or trivialize the pain of depression.

    His advice to patients is to remember that no matter how bad it feels it”s going to get better.

    “Number one, this isn”t your fault, anymore than catching a cold is your fault,” he said. “Number two, it is going to get better. Depression is treatable, it does have an end; it”s not a forever thing.”

    And for Smith, her depression is definitely getting better.

    “Ever since I” started taking Prozac, it”s like that sickness has kind of gone away,” she said. “Now I”m actually looking forward to things. I feel well; I feel healthy again.”

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