Judy Bellamy discovers life's rich rainbow of emotions, which most of us take for granted.
Medication and therapy are the two most common treatments for depression, which most experts believe to be a biologically based illness caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Low levels of the chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine may be present at birth or may result from physical or psychological trauma. Those born after 1945 are at higher risk for depression, and women are three times as likely as men to have it. A tendency toward depression is inherited.
Antidepressants such as Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil correct the imbalance of specific chemicals in the brain. Recent research suggests that psychotherapy may be as effective as antidepressants in changing brain chemistry, and as successful at relieving the symptoms of depression.
Whether severe or mild, depression is a treatable illness. Nearly 90 percent of patients treated for chronic depression get relief from symptoms. "For mild to moderate depression, either medication or therapy is good," says Keitner. "For severe depression, a combination of drugs and psychotherapy is effective."
After several weeks of therapy and treatment with the drug Serzone, Bellamy began to see the difference. A year later, Bellamy beams. "I look different and I act different. I think I'm getting younger. I'm amazed by how good I feel."
Bellamy has a new job, working in quality control documentation for a Rhode Island firm. She has an active social life ("my kids are envious"), belongs to a billiards league, rollerskates and enjoys flying a friend's plane. Her family has always been supportive, she says, but her relationships have changed. "I'm not leaning on anyone," she says. "I can support myself emotionally now."
"The change is remarkable," says Bessette. "A lot of people want to be the person they were before they were depressed, but Judy had never been that person."
People don't get the help they need because they lack knowledge about the treatments available or because of the stigma attached to depression, says Keitner. Though she wishes she'd sought treatment earlier, "I'm proud of the fact that I had enough common sense to get help," Bellamy says. She doesn't mind talking about the hard times and the sad times. "I don't want to forget about the past. I use it as a comparison."
For the first time, Bellamy's world is beautiful, filled with vibrant colors, laughter and life. "Sometimes I'll be driving in my car, just me, by myself, and suddenly I think, 'I'm happy.'"
For information about outpatient and inpatient treatment for depression, call 444-4779. To find out whether you qualify for one of the ongoing studies at the mood disorders program, call 444-3937.