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Dr. Paul Latimer on clinical depressionWe likely all know someone affected by clinical depression. Few of us, however, completely understand the magnitude, or severity of the condition, its chronic nature, or all of the symptoms that go along with it.

Depression is more than a simple case of the blues. Everyone experiences sad days, or periods when life isn’t going too well. Clinical depression, however, involves a depressed mood for prolonged periods of time with sometimes no correlation to life circumstances.

Aside from feelings of sadness, other psychological symptoms of depression include feelings of hopelessness, low self-esteem, impaired memory, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, and preoccupation with negative thoughts.

A little known fact about depression is that it is a systemic disease rather than simply a mood disorder. Physical symptoms are extremely common and are often the reason depressed individuals initially seek help in a medical setting.

Some of the most common physical manifestations of depression include these symptoms: aches and pains, fatigue, dizziness, insomnia, chest pain, back pain, intestinal complaints, diarrhea or constipation, menstrual dysfunction, and headaches.

Not only is this a disease that affects the entire body, but it affects a huge number of people. Across any year, it is estimated that more than three million Canadians suffer from depression. One in six individuals will experience depression at some point in their life.

Despite the multitude of people directly affected by this illness, only 25 percent of cases are detected and diagnosed, and only six percent are properly treated. This is amazing considering the availability and success rate of effective treatment. Untreated depression costs society $60 billion every year in direct healthcare costs, as well as lost workplace productivity in North America alone.

Depression is the fourth leading cause of disability world-wide, and experts believe that by 2020 it will be raised to the second leading cause of disability. Clearly, this disease is a lot more mainstream than is sometimes thought.

Along with the widespread nature of depression is its chronicity. In the vast majority of cases depression is a recurrent experience. If untreated, bouts of depression will most likely continue throughout the individual’s life and may increase in frequency and severity over time.

Allowing recurrences is not only unpleasant, but can be harmful as it will take less and less to trigger a depression over time. Also, the brain changes with each recurrence of the disease.

Depression should be treated early and completely – with complete remission and return to normal function as the goal.

Above all, if you or a loved one are experiencing depression, speak with your doctor as soon as possible.

Dr. Latimer is president of Okanagan Clinical Trials and a Kelowna psychiatrist.

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