March 16, 2010

Treating Mild Depression Helps

Those who are feeling a bit depressed, but who resist treatment, are more likely to become seriously depressed than those who seek help.

A new study in the February issue of Psychiatric Services shows that people who do not seek treatment for symptoms of mild depression considerably increase their odds of developing full−blown depression. The researchers say that their findings show that the early signs of depression should never be overlooked or regarded as “benign.”

The research team led by Myrna M. Weissman at Columbia University followed 348 participants who suffered from the early symptoms of depression, as diagnosed by their own doctors. None had received treatment in the year prior to the study’s outset.

There was also a correlation between being mildly depressed at the study's outset and having problems with alcohol or drugs by the study''s end.

Weissman and her team found that a large portion – 62% – of the participants had developed major depression at the time of the four−year follow−up. Even more, these participants were six times as likely to have been admitted to a psychiatric emergency room as participants not suffering from depression. The researchers also say that the emotional and physical health, as well as overall social functioning, of the depressed patients was significantly poorer than that of controls at follow−up. Finally, there was also a correlation between being mildly depressed at the study’s outset and having problems with alcohol or drugs by the study’s end.

Weissman says, in a news release from the American Psychological Association, that the study’s “findings suggest that mildly depressed, untreated patients do not have a benign course of illness.”

She adds that the “findings come in the wake of intensive focus by the media on a study reported in January, which showed that depressed patients with mild symptoms did not do any better with medication than with placebo, suggesting that patients with mild depression don't need treatment. Of course, patients in a clinical trial are receiving a considerable amount of attention and are not untreated."

People who believe they may be depressed – even mildly – should not ignore the symptoms. Seeking the help of one’s doctor, who can be of assistance in evaluating symptoms and making decisions about an appropriate course of treatment, is always a good first step.

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