Mental illness

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According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. For some, depression can result in severe impairments that interfere with or limit their ability to carry out even basic life activities.

“Depression can affect how you feel and think. Depression can also affect how you sleep, the way you eat or your performance at work,” says Timothy Kummerling, doctor of nursing practice at Lancaster Health Center.

“Generally, depression symptoms are usually present for at least two weeks before a diagnosis of depression is made, but the symptoms are usually present for much longer before someone seeks help, if they seek any help at all,” Kummerling says.

Losing a loved one, getting fired from a job, going through a divorce and other difficult situations can lead a person to feel sad, lonely and scared. These feelings are normal reactions to life's events. However, the manifestations of the low mood are much more severe and tend to persist among individuals who are experiencing depression.

“Depression does affect everyone differently and no one scenario is identical, so it may manifest differently in men and women of varying ages,” Kummerling says.

That is why a routine visit with a primary care provider or therapist is important to get a proper diagnosis and to learn about the best treatment approach.

Some ethnic groups are more prone to depression than others. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Asian adults have the lowest rate of depression (3.1). They are followed closely by white (about 8%), Hispanic (about 8.5%) and black (about 9%) adults, who have a higher rate of depression.

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It's not uncommon for someone with depression to also suffer from anxiety or vice versa. Almost one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

“In some cases, a healthy dose of anxiety can actually be useful in giving us the needed push to get things done. Some people may feel anxious when faced with a problem at work or their personal life, feeling nervous before a test, or before making a big decision, which is normal,” Kummerling says.

However, an anxiety disorder involves more than a temporary worry or fear.

“In the case of an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away easily and can become worse without treatment,” Kummerling says. “This can lead to interference with daily activities such as doing well at work or school and maintaining healthy relationships, much like depression.”

There are different types of mental disorders, and the causes are complex, not fully understood and vary depending on the particular disorder and the individual life experiences.

And while there are many similarities among them, each disorder has its own unique set of symptoms.

Some general symptoms to watch for are:

  • feeling sad most of the time
  • feeling tired or having low energy levels
  • loss of interest in activities
  • changes in appetite
  • weight loss or weight gain
  • trouble concentrating
  • difficulty sleeping
  • feeling worthless, helpless or hopeless
  • headaches, stomach problems or physical pain
  • thoughts of wanting to hurt yourself or others
  • thoughts of death or suicide

The good news, Kummerling says, is that depression and anxiety are treatable. Treatment for anxiety disorders includes medication or therapy. A combination of antidepressant medications and talk therapy has been found to be effective, according to Kummerling.

“Antidepressants are believed to affect the way certain brain messenger chemicals function, which can result in an improved mood and less anxiety. These medications are the usual choice for treatment of depression and anxiety disorders,” Kummerling says.

Where to get help

Learning all you can about mental health is an important first step.

“Follow up with your medical provider, especially if you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned,” Kummerling says.

Treatments for mental illness vary by diagnosis and by person. After diagnosis, a health care provider can help develop a treatment plan that could include medication, therapy or other lifestyle changes.

Reach out to your health insurance, primary care doctor or county/state mental health authority for more resources. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health emergency that requires immediate attention, contact Crisis Intervention at 717-394-2631, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.