Dr. Krishna Vedala- A few years ago, one of my professors asked me, “What’s the leading cause of disability?” I thought along the usual lines thinking it was chronic back pain or end-stage kidney disease. But, boy was I wrong. The answer? Mental Health, a broad term that includes a series of diseases such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, and many more. While many of these diseases can co-exist, depression tends to be the most prevalent of all of them. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 17.2 million people were affected by depression in 2017. Now, those are just the people who have been diagnosed, and that number could be much higher because Mental Health has never been a priority in our nation, and there remains stigma associated with it.
One simple tool doctors often use is a mnemonic labeled “SIGECAPS,” which stands for Sleeping more or less, a lack of Interest in activities, feeling Guilty or worthless, having less Energy, being unable to Concentrate, changes in Appetite, increased Psychomotor agitation and any thoughts of Self-harm. Having any of these symptoms raises caution, but depression is more likely when you have five or more of these symptoms. Depression is often treated with a combination of prescription medicines and psychological therapy sessions. Results are often slow, sometimes taking weeks or months to see significant changes. However, being left untreated can lead to dire consequences, including death.
No one is immune from depression, including doctors. The past 18 months have been very difficult for me. My wife and I have not been able to live together for multiple reasons. The truth is, training to be a physician is not an easy task. Despite being a doctor myself, I just didn’t notice any signs of depression within me. However, my close friends did and told me to get help, but I refused to listen to them. Why? Because I felt very guilty for not being able to bring my wife home to Batesville and for not being there for her. So, I kept trying to put up a brave front every day at work. All of the signs were there, and things kept getting worse. I was eating more, gaining weight, not sleeping as much and started feeling more fatigued on a daily basis. And then COVID hit the world adding more fuel to the fire. Every day, I got more and more worried about my wife and my family. I kept worrying about what would happen if I got the virus? What do I do if something were to happen to anyone in my family?
I finally broke down and called one of my mentors. I told him that I felt so overwhelmed and just did not know how much further I could keep going. He asked me if I was open to being treated. I told him I was ready, and I was prescribed an anti-depressant. It took a few weeks, but I noticed a significant difference. Things in my personal life haven’t changed much, but I have been able to keep the depression off. I have certainly been more active with my mind being clearer and my mood being a lot better.
I want to remind you that you’re not alone in this fight. Everyone faces depression and other Mental Health disorders because they play a big role as part of our total well-being. Depression isn’t something you should take lightly because it keeps building and getting worse. Prevention of depression, like any illness, is paramount. You can help prevent depression through regular aerobic exercise, good sleep habits, maintaining social interaction beyond social media, and regular engagement in hobbies or activities that clear your mind, etc.
If you have been noticing any of symptoms of depression listed above, please reach out to the medical community including your doctors, nurse practitioners, psychologists, physician assistants, etc.. Because above all, we are here not only to treat diseases, but also to help you prevent and overcome them.
Dr. Krishna Vedala is a third-year resident physician at the White River Medical Center, specializing in Internal Medicine. He is from Oklahoma and received his MD and Masters in Public Health from the University of Oklahoma.