Depression: Stigma and Treatments

Nov 07, 2014
Tagged with: Depression: Stigma and Treatments

Like all mental illnesses, depression has always had a certain stigma attached to it; however, in some ways the stigma of depression can be more damaging because it can prevent people from getting the treatment they need.

For example, schizophrenia is viewed as a malfunction in the brain. Even if people don’t understand exactly what schizophrenia is, and have a lot of misconceptions about people with schizophrenia, most will agree that people with the disease are ill, that they can’t just turn it off or snap out of it, and that they need treatment.

Conversely, depression is viewed more as mood or state of mind. This is due in part to the fact that everyone has felt depressed at some point in his life. What people fail to realize is that the occasional blue funk that most people experience is completely different from what happens with clinical depression.

Depression is also a largely invisible disease. Of the currently estimated 235,067 people in the United States with depression, a majority of those are largely functional. They have jobs, families and social lives. Like the late Robin Williams, they can be lively, dynamic, and even funny, which can lead people who don’t understand depression to believe that it’s not as serious or debilitating as it is.

The stigma and misunderstandings about depression aren’t the only things that prevent people from seeking help or getting treatment. The disease itself can also be the person’s worst enemy. Depression causes despair and hopelessness, which means that when in the midst of a depressive episode, their brains tell them things like nobody cares about them, or that it doesn’t matter if they get help because it’s not going to work anyway.

Fortunately, there is hope. People are talking more about the disease and working to erase the stigma. There are also advances in treatment options that can help people with depression better cope with their disease.

Treatments for Depression

The most common treatment for major depressive disorder is a combination of medication and therapy. However, the issue with many medications has been that they are often a matter of trial an error. Antidepressant medications are designed to address specific brain chemicals believed to be the cause of depression. The problem is that not every person with depression has an imbalance in the same brain chemicals, and there is really no way to tell which brain chemicals are the issue. This means a patient might need to try several different drugs, or drug combinations, before they find one that works. To make matters worse, it could take up to six weeks to determine if the drugs are having any effect at all; and some forms of depression are just resistant to treatment.

Scientists are working on finding more effective medications to treat depression. Some are designed to target other brain chemicals, like glutamate, and others are designed to augment existing medications to make them more effective.

Another emerging technology is the use of magnetic devices and ultrasound as tools against depression.

Magnetic Devices for Depression

Magnetic devices are used both to identify and treat the illness. For identification, doctors use a type of magnetic imaging known as fMRI to take images of the brain and pinpoint areas that might be causing the depression.  Once the areas are identified, doctors use a handheld magnetic device, similar to an ultrasound want, to stimulate those problem areas. The procedure is called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and it is believed to help in cases where other therapies have failed. TMS is relatively new and may not be available in areas. However there are at least two clinics in the country that specialize in the procedure, Smart Brain & Health and Neurostar.

Ultrasound for Depression

Ultrasound uses sound waves instead of magnets to take images of soft tissue inside the body. The same sound pulses that create the images could also stimulate the brain and elevate your mood. It does not have the same long-term effects as TMS, but it can be used in conjunction with other therapies to help patients with depression. Ultrasound therapy for depression is still in the testing phase, but it does show some promise.

Author: Chris Meloni

  • Amit Kushabara

    Depression is a major issue nowadays and it should be treated anyhow. I am grateful to know about different kind of treatments available for depression.