Most people know what it's like to be sad. The loss of a pet, trouble at work or a divorce can make anyone feel down. But some folks have been depressed so long that they can't remember how to feel happy.
Evelyn has been struggling with thoughts of suicide off and on for years. She has been to psychologists and psychiatrists and has taken antidepressant medication without much success. As a result of one medication, she gained over 30 pounds. The weight has been hard to shed and has contributed to her feelings of worthlessness.
Harvey used to be a teacher. Although he loved working with kids, the low pay and difficult conditions were discouraging. He quit to build a more promising career, but when the business went bust he was left out in the cold.
Now Harvey can't get his act together. His voice is flat and slow. He can barely drag himself out of bed in the morning and he has lost hope for the future. Harvey is so low he can't summon the energy to seek help.
The kind of depression affecting Harvey and Evelyn is beyond most people's experience. When friends or family give well-meaning advice to "snap out of it," the words fall on deaf ears.
tTC People who suffer from major depression can no more cheer themselves up than fly. Scientists believe that biochemical changes in the brain lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. But new antidepressants can modify brain biochemistry to lift moods without making people gain weight or feel lethargic.
Signs of severe depression include problems with sleeping or appetite, diminished sex drive and low energy. People may not be interested in socializing and have little self-confidence. Concentration may be difficult and thoughts of suicide intrude.
Although genetic factors can predispose a person to depression, millions suffer for no apparent reason. Others may be at the mercy of their medications.
Nancy was doing great until her doctor put her on blood pressure medication and hormone replacement therapy. She told us that she was normally a happy person who enjoyed her family and her hobbies -- cooking and gardening.
Six months after starting these medicines, she was weepy, forgetful and had no energy. She could barely manage to throw together a sandwich for her family, let alone a special meal.
No one mentioned that the blood pressure medicine and the progesterone she was taking could bring on depression. When Nancy finally talked to her doctor, he changed her prescriptions and her outlook on life improved.
A surprising number of medications can affect mood.
Effective treatment of depression is available. Talking therapy combined with appropriate antidepressant medications can save people's lives.
Q: My pharmacist thinks I'm nuts. I've been looking for a shampoo and conditioner called Mane 'n Tail and a nail strengthener called Hoofmaker. My daughter used them at riding camp last summer and says they were great, making her nails and hair grow faster. I'd like to get them for both of us, but I can't find them anywhere. Help!
A: Many of our readers have written about the benefits of Mane 'n Tail and Hoofmaker. Although originally designed for horses, these veterinary products have become so popular that the manufacturer sells two-thirds of its products for human use.
Now the company, Straight Arrow, is bringing these products to consumers under a new label called Equenne. Within weeks it should start showing up in some drug chains.
Q: My secretary is a wonderful young woman but she has one bad habit -- she smokes. She runs outside for a smoking break, and when she comes back in she reeks of smoke. I hate to see this lovely person ruining her health.
I want to give her a present of nicotine patches for her birthday to help her quit. How can I get a prescription?
A: You can't get a prescription for someone else. Even if you did, she'd have to want to quit or the nicotine patches probably wouldn't work. They are most effective as part of a complete stop-smoking program.
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Dr. Teresa Graedon is a medical anthropologist and nutrition expert.