Doctor speaks up about battle with depression, leading cause of disability for people 15-44; only 20% with symptoms are treated

By Danielle Ray
Kentucky Health News

Pitman (Paducah Sun photo)

Dr. Jay Pitman knows what it’s like to feel isolated. Pitman spoke out about his battle with depression in a recent essay in The Paducah Sun.

“I’m writing a piece about my depression, about things people don’t like to talk about,” he told Steve Wilson, editor of the newspaper. “I’m thinking it might help some people.” Wilson wrote in his column about Pitman, whose essay was published a week earlier, along with a story about him.

Pitman’s depression deepened after he was the victim of a near-fatal hit-and-run accident in 2013. He was found lying unconscious in a pool of blood. He had suffered a concussion, brain hemorrhage and a broken shoulder. His physical recovery was remarkable. In fact, he recovered well enough to compete in a triathlon the next year. But he has had a much longer road to emotional healing.

Pitman is not alone in his struggle. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that about 18 million Americans suffer from depression, and notes that depression is the leading cause of disability in people aged 15 to 44. The organization distinguishes two categories of depression: major depression and persistent depressive disorder, which is characterized by symptoms that last at least two years.

Pitman’s essay garnered a lot of support, but he’s more concerned with opening up an honest dialogue about the issue.

“My hope is that those coping with depression will seek help and talk openly about their disease without feeling ashamed or embarrassed,” he told Wilson. “I’ve lost several friends to suicide.”

Despite its prevalence, only about 20 percent of people with depression symptoms seek professional help, according to the online health network Healthline.

Tiffany Bryant, a Lexington counselor who specializes in treating depression, said many people don’t seek help or speak out about depression because of a lingering stigma surrounding mental illness. She believes popular culture has created an environment that discourages people from representing themselves honestly, flaws and struggles and all.

“I think you can blame, to a certain extent, social media, because everybody wants to show their very best,” she said. “A lot of people have this mask that they wear for other people, and they never really take it off.”

Even with a fairly low rate of patients seeking treatment, Healthline estimates that the number of patients diagnosed with depression increases by about 20 percent each year.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends early treatment. If not effectively treated, depression can become a chronic disease. Experiencing just one episode of depression places a person at a 50 percent risk for experiencing another episode in the future, according to the CDC.

While it can affect anyone at any time, women typically experience higher rates of depression than men. The CDC also noted that nearly 10 percent of people in their 40s and 50s report current depression. The good news is that 60 to 80 percent of all depression cases can be treated with either psychotherapy (“talk therapy”), antidepressant medication or a combination of both, says Healthline.

The American Psychiatric Association defines depression as a condition with any five of these seven symptoms for a continuous period of at least two weeks:

  • sadness;
  • loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable;
  • change in weight or appetite, change in activity level;
  • sleeping too much or too little;
  • loss of energy;
  • feelings of guilt or worthlessness;
  • difficulty concentrating or having thoughts of death or suicide.

Depression has a variety of causes, including genetic, environmental, psychological, and biochemical factors. The CDC notes that everyone gets “down in the dumps” at times, but it becomes pathological when symptoms are persistent and interrupt daily life. To learn more about it, from the National Institute of Mental Health, click here.

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