The seventh step on the path to mental wellness is to understand the types of disorders. Last month we learned about a few of the classes of mental disorders. Educating ourselves about our diagnosis can be empowering and make things less “scary”. It also helps to make sense of the treatment plan.

There are more than 200 forms of mental illness. Due to limited column space, it’s difficult to cover each one so we will learn about the more “well-known” and talked about illnesses.

The five most common mental health disorders include depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse and attention deficit disorders. Millions of people suffer from these disorders. Unfortunately, it is possible to be diagnosed with one or more of them.

The next five columns will address each of these disorders so that we can better understand why we do the things we do, why we feel the way we do and what we can do to overcome the disorder. Today we will learn more about depression and the effect it has on our lives.

According the National Alliance On Mental Illness, depression can have an effect on anyone. An estimated 16 million American adults have had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. Women are affected more than men. Children can also be depressed.

Depression is more than feeling a little blue or sad. It is a major health concern. To be diagnosed with depressive disorder, a person must have experienced a depressive episode lasting longer than two weeks.

Depression can be long-lasting and interfere with people’s ability to function and cope with daily life. At its most severe, depression can lead to suicide. Fortunately, with early detection, diagnosis and a treatment plan consisting of medication, psychotherapy and healthy lifestyle choices, many people can and do get better.

Some of the symptoms are:

• Changes in sleep

• Changes in appetite

• Lack of concentration

• Loss of energy

• Lack of interest in activities

• Hopelessness or guilty thoughts

• Changes in movement (less activity or agitation)

• Physical aches and pains

• Suicidal thoughts

Depression can be caused by one or more of these factors:

• Trauma

• Genetics

• Life circumstances

• Brain and hormonal changes

• Medical conditions such as chronic pain or anxiety

• Medications

• Drug and alcohol abuse

Depression can be overwhelming but can respond to treatment. The key is to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Safety planning is important for individuals who have suicidal thoughts. After an assessment rules out medical and other possible causes, a treatment plan can include any or a combination of the following:

• Psychotherapy including cognitive behavioral therapy, family-focused therapy and interpersonal therapy

• Antidepressants, mood stabilizers medications

• Exercise

• Light therapy

• Acupuncture, meditation, faith and nutrition can help

• Brain stimulation therapies such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for severe depression

Next month we will explore the “agony of anxiety” as I put it. I suffer from this at times and it is no fun.

Betty Nufer tag: Betty Nufer is program manager for Spark The Change Colorado and is a life-long resident of Pueblo. To learn more about free mental health services and programs please call 719-821-2982 or email bnufer@sparkthechangecolorado.