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Beating the blues

Dec. 5, 2013

Depression is all too common a problem in our society. Whilst GPs diagnose and manage many patients with depression the ones we really worry about are those who are suffering in silence and not getting the help they need. Depression is an illness, not a state of mind, and it is very treatable. It is estimated that 1 in 3 of us will experience it during our life time. The good work done by celebrities, such as John Kirwan, have really helped reduce the stigma associated with depression and have opened up many useful conversations about mental health issues.

Depression manifests itself with a constant feeling of being down, being hopeless, helpless or worthless and having little pleasure in things normally enjoyed. However, the most frequent presentation in general practice is of feeling tired all the time. Some other com-mon symptoms include:

Often people with depression also find they worry about things more than usual. This is known as anxiety. It can cause physical symptoms like pain, a pounding heart or stomach cramps and for some people these physical symptoms are their main concern.

If you have a friend or loved one who they believe has depression there are some very positive actions you can take to help. Take the time to listen to their story, ask how they are regularly, help them find strategies to deal with their problems, encourage them to have daily exercise (take them for a walk) and encourage them to come in and talk to a doctor. Whatever you do don't tell them to 'snap out of it' or “pull themselves together". People cannot 'will' themselves better. Do not encourage them to drink alcohol- it will worsen the situation. If they mention suicide be courageous and talk about it, take it very seriously and seek professional help.

Whilst medication is a very useful tool to help those with depression it is not the only op-tion open to doctors. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is as effective as medication for mild to moderate depression and we frequently refer patients to a suitably matched psy-chologist. This type of counselling helps you firstly to reconsider how you think about yourself, the world and other people and secondly how to understand what you do af-fects your thoughts and feelings. An effective course of CBT can help you to change how you think (the 'Cognitive' part) and what you do (the 'Behavioural' bit). We occasionally get some Health Board funding for psychology for our patients with depression, but it is never enough to meet demand, so most of those wanting CBT have to pay privately for it. Fortunately there is a free new scheme called 'Beating the Blues" which your doctor can register you with. Beating the Blues is an online CBT programme which has 8 weekly sessions, each lasting about 50 minutes. It is really effective and 7 out of 10 users manage to beat their depression. CBT is not an instant cure but it is much more long-lasting than drugs and other alternative treatments – precisely because it teaches workable skills for life.

The Medplus doctors are very experienced in managing depression and anxiety and wel-come those suffering with the blues to come in and start on the road to recovery.