RODALE NEWS, LENOX, MA—Debbie broke down in tears as she told her doctor about her conflict with her mother. Caring for her was taking a toll on Debbie—she was having trouble sleeping, and was feeling increasingly despondent and helpless. Her doctor realized Debbie was depressed, and arranged for me to speak with her later that afternoon. When we met, Debbie shared the stresses in her life, and how she was trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to cope. We came up with a plan for how she could take better care of herself, and deal with the stresses of caretaking. It included suggestions for exercise, nutrition, exposure to sunlight, a breathing technique to help manage stress, connecting with friends, and ways to address the challenges with her mother.
I shared the plan with Debbie's doctor, who informed me that she was doing lab tests to look for possible medical contributors to Debbie’s depression. In our integrative health center at Canyon Ranch, our healthcare professionals communicate frequently. I met several times with Debbie to support her in her lifestyle changes, and to work on her caretaking and relationship with her mother. At her follow-up with her physician, Debbie started taking nutritional supplements to correct imbalances revealed in her lab work. She embraced the lifestyle changes I recommended, and within several weeks she was feeling dramatically better.
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THE DETAILS: The collaboration between Debbie’s physician and me—an integrated treatment approach—is part of a growing trend for treating depression and other psychological disorders. Since about 80 percent of primary-care doctor visits are stress-related, it makes sense to help patients immediately address the source of their distress. To facilitate that, physicians are being trained to more accurately diagnose anxiety, depression, and other emotional disorders.
However, when physicians recommend psychotherapy, patients often have trouble following through because of insurance questions, waiting lists, fear, and inertia. Knowing this, busy physicians offer immediate help by writing prescriptions for anti-anxiety and antidepressant medication.
But while drugs sometimes provide symptomatic relief, they often don’t address the underlying source of those symptoms. On the other hand, the integrated model including both medical and psychological treatment enables patients to quickly get the care they need. They also learn strategies that help them recover from their crisis, and become more resilient in the future. As a result, their visits to the emergency room and overall healthcare costs go down.
WHAT IT MEANS: This strategy of early identification and treatment of depression is an important step forward, especially as the incidence of depression has grown into an epidemic in recent years. One in four Americans report being at least mildly or moderately depressed at any given time. Twenty-five percent of Americans will experience clinical depression at some point in their lives. And over the past 50 years, the rate of depression has been doubling every 10 years.