More people seeking help for depression, and that's good news

Posted: Monday, January 21, 2002

The number of Americans seeking doctors' help for depression has zoomed, with an astonishing tripling of treatment rates in the 10-year period ending in 1997, according to a study published last week.

Cause for concern?

More like reason for rejoicing.

Some experts believe that depression may have been on the rise in recent decades, with increased workplace stress and the break-up of the nuclear family. But until relatively recently, the millions of people stricken by this stealthy and often devastating disease suffered in silence.

The good news now is that victims finally are acknowledging their illness and seeking help, that Prozac and other wonder drugs have provided an easy and effective way to treat most of them, and that many insurers are willing to pay for the medication. ...

Depression can affect everything from relationships with loved ones to job performance, but in its most serious form, it can lead to death. Each year, 30,000 Americans take their own lives, many of them under the dark cloud of a mental illness from which they feel they have no escape.

The use of anti-depressant drugs increased dramatically during the 10-year period of the study, from about 37 percent of patients treated to about 75 percent, as the number of people treated climbed from 1.7 million annually to about 6.3 million.

There are obvious dangers that accompany the development of medications designed to correct brain chemistry gone awry, including use by people who don't need them but twist their doctors' arms for prescriptions.

Prozac and similar breakthrough drugs are not a cure-all. They do not help some people with the most severe forms of depression. ...

But the findings of the new study, detailed by the Journal of the American Medical Association, should be greeted with great joy.

-- Chicago Tribune

Jan. 14

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