Depression misunderstood even in medical profession

Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 6, 2002

Depression is highly stigmatized in the medical field as well as the general American public mind, research released Friday states. The illness remains widespread and untreated due to these negative stereotypes.

"The failure to diagnose depression is seen as acceptable even within health care," said Marianne Udow, vice president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. "Physicians often think that depression is something individuals can make go away."

Physicians commonly misdiagnose depression symptoms, including sleep disturbance, fatigue and diminished pleasure, as normal, said Jerry Rushton, a University pediatrician.

"Physicians don't want to give patients a label," Rushton said, adding that, as a result, they probably fail to diagnose at least half of patients with major depression disorder.

Even when treated, clinical depression often leads to further episodes or even suicide. Seventy percent of depression cases recur in five years, and suicide is the third most common cause of death for adolescents between 10 and 19 years old, according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Center for Disease Control and Prevention data.

Depression is especially overlooked in Michigan. Udow said that Michigan is one of the states for which depression is most under-treated, with "some of the lowest use of anti-depressants (occurring) in Detroit."

John Greden, executive director of the University's Depression Center, said that raising awareness about depression is essential. He added that many reasons for depression's prevalence stem from clinicians' misconceptions about the disorder, but that the community also plays a significant role.

"A major way to combat depression is through the dissemination of knowledge," he said.

Greden likened the trivialization of depression to people's doubt regarding cancer before it became so common.

"There used to be a stigma about cancer, and now there is one about depression," he said.

His presentation noted several respected figures who have publicly announced their battle with depression, including Jennifer Lopez, Jim Carrey and Harrison Ford.

The University Depression Center was founded in 2001 and is renowned for its combination of research and education with treatment. The Eli Lilly foundation, the non-profit sector of Prozac inventor Eli Lilly and Company, awarded the center with $750,000 this year to help speed its research.

Greden plans to use this gift to establish depression centers nationwide, which he expects will replicate the success of the national networks of cancer centers.