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New Study Shows Persistence Pays Off in Treatment For Depression

Depression can affect anyone from time to time, but when it goes from the usual "blues" to something far more serious, medical attention should be sought. Without treatment, depression can trigger additional physical and emotional illness, cause problems at work, bring on alcohol and drug abuse, and even suicide. A major study of depression recently released by the National Institute of Mental Health may help doctors redefine treatment options so that if one medication is ineffective, patients do not lose hope.

Irene Wozny…Linda Fuller…Clarence Beckett are among the 121 million people worldwide who have struggled with depression, but they got help and the right medication. Depression is the most common form of mental illness. It often carries a social stigma. Only in recent years have some patients been forthcoming about their disease.

“We're contributing members in society and most people don't know that," said Irene.

"The first two times I had it, I hid it,” admitted Linda. “I only told my husband and my children. I didn't want anyone to think I was losing my mind. You're ashamed of it, but it's really nothing to be ashamed of…"

All of the 4,000 volunteers who participated in the recent study were given anti-depressants. At least one-third of them saw their symptoms disappear by taking the first drug. But how to help the others?

Dr. Patrick McGrath of the New York Psychiatric Institute says, "Patients want to know that and doctors need to know it too."

Researchers discovered that by switching to a different anti-depressant, another 25 percent of the volunteers also felt better.

Dr. John Rush of the University of Texas-Southwestern added this: "It didn't matter what drug the patient was switched to, they were all the same in terms of benefiting patients."

Trial and error…finding the right medication…sometimes combining more than one medication…and giving each medication four to six weeks to work… or not. The study showed the patient and health care provider should try a range of treatments based on the needs of the individual. One of three volunteers in the study went into remission after finding the right medication. That rose to about half of those studied when more participants switched to a different anti-depressant or combined drugs.

Psychiatrist Frederick Goodwin, a former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, says behavioral therapy can also help make a difference.

"If there are activities…if there are relationships, people, things that still give you pleasure, try to focus on those things. If there are things that constantly remind you of defeat and frustration, try to avoid those things. Sometimes these relatively straightforward simple sounding things can be the beginning of pulling yourself out of it," said Doctor Goodwin.

When VOA met Clarence Beckett, he was homeless, but he was fortunate in one sense because he had medical attention. The World Health Organization says fewer than 25 percent of those with depression have access to treatment.

The researchers of the depression study acknowledge their findings were done under ideal conditions with careful monitoring of patients. But they worry that many others suffering from depression might not be as persistent with their medical care and give up too soon.