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Another Voice: New direction needed in treating severe depression

By Nirmala G. Britti

In the United States, more than 15 million people suffer from the brain disease most commonly referred to as severe depression. In more than 30,000 of the successful suicides committed in the United States every year, severe depression has been identified as the proximal cause. Thousands of people living in this nation, and millions around the world, struggle to cope with the intractable loss of friends and loved ones.

Unfortunately, the data clearly indicates that these numbers have remained constant for the past 10 years. While the reasons that we as a society have made little headway in decreasing the number of suicides in patients suffering from severe depression are many and varied, research has revealed some compelling evidence that the medical care available to treat the severely depressed patient is at the very least inadequate, and, at its worst, culpable in keeping new and progressive therapy protocols out of the arsenal of mainstream treatments.

Medical care for people with depression lacks the continuity and the ordered-set discipline that is so critically important to the effective treatment of so many other disease states. Depression requires the multidisciplinary approach that is accepted as the standard of care in oncology and coronary care. Patient navigators who have revolutionized the care of cancer patients are non-existent in psychiatric care. Without an advocate’s assistance, patients with brain disease struggle to understand what is happening to them, and they are left to chart their own course through a medical maze of dead ends, empty corridors and half cures.

While today’s primary care physicians are highly trained and tremendously skilled, the day-to-day realities of health care do not allow them to spend adequate time with patients who are suffering with brain disease. The same time constraints hold true in the mental health professions. To make matters worse, insurance companies have changed reimbursement rates relative to psychiatric care and have limited the number of counseling sessions included in their plans.

Depression costs the United States over half a trillion dollars per year, but the toll that it takes on our families and communities is incalculable. Parents Against Depression is striving to raise awareness about brain disease by speaking openly and honestly about depression to high school students, community organizations and PTAs.

Just as there is no shame in having a pancreas that no longer produces insulin or a coronary artery that is blocked with plaque, there is no shame – and no fault – to be found in brain disease. No matter the cause, depression is real. The disease cannot be wished away. It is our enemy and we will fight it with everything we have. Our future depends on it.

Nirmala G. Britti, Ph.D., of Hagerstown, Md., is president of Parents Against Depression.