I’m the senior medical director for health equity and quality services at Highmark, and I’m committed to reducing disparities and promoting health equity for all. My blog will focus on ways in which we, here at Highmark, are attempting to reach these goals, and stories about how we are succeeding.

Depression is an illness just like diabetes or high blood pressure. It can be treated.Life sure can get complicated.  We all feel sad or low from time to time — a loved one dies, we get sick, we may experience break-ups, divorce, job loss or financial problems.  It happens to all of us and it’s normal to feel down sometimes when we’re trying to cope with life’s problems.

But if you feel like despair and emptiness have taken hold of your life and just won’t go away, or if you feel like you just can’t “snap out of it,” then you may have clinical depression.  Depression can make it tough to function.  And it can rob you of the simple joys of everyday living.  Just getting through the day can be overwhelming.

But there’s good news.  Once diagnosed, depression can almost always be treated successfully.  And no matter how hopeless you may feel right now, you can get better.

Depression:  It’s Not Just “The Blues”

Depression is a common condition that affects about one in four adults – approximately 61.5 million Americans. Depression affects people of every race, background, socio-economic status and walk of life.

There are many different forms of depression, ranging from major depression to post-partum depression to seasonal affective disorder to bipolar disorder. The focus of this article is on major depression, the most common type.  This article is meant to provide information and increase awareness about depression and a potential complication of depression – suicide.

What Are the Symptoms of Major Depression?

Depression varies from person to person, but there are some common signs and symptoms. You may have some or all of these symptoms:

  • Lingering sadness, feeling anxious, feeling “empty,” excessive crying
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased appetite and weight gain
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Decreased energy, tiredness, feeling “slowed down”
  • Feelings of guilt, feeling worthless, helpless or hopeless
  • Changes in sleep: not sleeping well or sleeping too much
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities, including sex
  • Trouble concentrating and making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Keep in mind that not everyone experiences the same symptoms.  The more symptoms you have, the stronger they are, and the longer they’ve lasted, the more likely it is that you may be dealing with depression.

How Is Major Depression Treated?

If you are depressed, please keep in mind that you are not alone.  It’s important to put yourself first and make a commitment to get help.  Many treatment options are available. A physician or therapist can help you decide what is right for you. Just like other conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure, depression may involve an imbalance in your body’s hormones and chemistry.

So, give yourself time and be sure to keep your appointments with your health care providers. If you are on medication and you don’t feel better after taking medication, or you experience unwelcome side effects, be sure to discuss this with your health care provider.  The good news is that most people who are diagnosed with depression can be treated and usually feel better.

Support groups have benefitted many who have recovered from depression.  The strength of faith, family and friends can also help reduce feelings of isolation.

Why Do Some People Wait to Seek Treatment?

Studies have shown that some people may delay treatment due to long held cultural or family beliefs surrounding mental illness like these:

  • Might hurt the family
  • Could ruin my career
  • People might think I am crazy
  • Can’t afford to appear weak
  • Shame
  • Embarrassment or fear
  • Is due to a “lack of faith”

Sometimes depression is mistakenly viewed as a personal weakness and not as a health problem like diabetes or high blood pressure, which it is.

Cultural traditions and beliefs like these are sometimes hard to break, but it can be done.  If there is one point I hope anyone reading this blog post remembers, it’s that: 

Depression and Suicide

Suicide is the tenth-leading cause of death in the U.S. The recent passing of brilliant actor and comedian Robin Williams reminds us how serious and powerful depression can become. Depression is involved in more than two-thirds of the 30,000 suicides that occur each year in the U.S.

Thoughts of death or suicide are serious symptoms of depression, so please take any suicidal talk or behavior seriously. It’s not just a warning sign that a person is thinking about suicide. It’s a cry for help. If you, a friend or family member has considered or is considering suicide, please seek professional help immediately. Talking openly about suicidal thoughts and feelings can save a life.

Suicide Prevention: 24/7:  Help – Just a Phone Call Away

If you or a loved one is in crisis and need help right away, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.  The number is toll-free and is available 24 hours a day.

Be Informed and Stay The Course

Take an active role in your physical and mental health and well-being. Be informed, ask lots of questions and share any concerns about treatment with your health care provider(s). Working together, you will arrive at the treatment plan that will work best for you.


Disclaimer:  This blog is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions.  Individuals should always consult a doctor or other health care professional if they suspect they have a medical condition, including a risk for suicide.