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As the nation's largest grassroots organization dedicated to helping people with severe mental illnesses, NAMI applauds Tipper Gore for her forthright disclosure of her personal struggle with major depression. We have long known that she is a woman of extraordinary insight, courage and compassion, and her decision to talk about her 1991 experience adds to our high esteem for her.
Mrs. Gore's story gives hope to all Americans who struggle with severe mental illnesses. It strikes a significant blow against stigma and will encourage many people to seek treatment who otherwise might be afraid. Depression is a biological brain disorder that can affect anyone. Furthermore, Mrs. Gore's testimony underscores the fact that treatment works and is vital to recovery.
At the same time, it is important to keep in mind that approximately 50 percent of individuals who suffer from an episode of major depression will experience second episodes. Individuals who experience second episodes in turn have a 70-percent chance of a third, and those who suffer three episodes have a 90-percent chance of experiencing a fourth. One reason for relapses is that millions of Americans go without adequate treatment, in part because healthcare insurance policies and laws prevent them from getting the treatment they may desperately need.
Treatment works, but only if you get it. Senators Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Paul Wellstone (D-MN) have introduced S. 796 to end discrimination in healthcare insurance coverage against persons suffering from severe mental illnesses. Virginia and Montana recently have enacted legislation to end such discrimination, bringing to 21 overall the number of states that have passed parity laws. Next week, the governors of Indiana and New Jersey also are expected to sign parity bills into law. Similar measures are pending in other states such as California and New York. Mrs. Gore's testimony must be a "call to arms" to all Americans to ensure that Congress and their state legislatures enact mental health parity now-to end the stigma and discrimination that for too long has prevented people from getting the treatment they need.
Whether the concern is situational depression or chronic mental illnesses, Americans need also to talk openly about early warning signs and treatment options and to build a better mental healthcare system overall. Mrs. Gore's testimony has begun that dialogue.
NAMI also is here to help those Americans who may not know where to begin to get help. Please tell them about NAMI's Helpline, 1-800-950-NAMI , where anyone can get information about severe mental illnesses and referrals to local NAMI support groups.
Warning Signs of Depression
Consult a physician if you have experienced five or more of the following symptoms for more than two weeks:
Major depression, or unipolar depression, is manifested by a combination of symptoms that interfere with the ability to work, sleep, eat and enjoy once pleasurable activities. It is more than a passing case of the "blues." A person with depression cannot just "pull themselves together."
Approximately 50 to 60 percent of individuals with major depression can be expected to experience a second episode. Individuals who have had two episodes have a 70 percent chance of having a third episode, and individuals who have had three episodes have a 90 percent chance of having a fourth episode.
In any given year, more than 17 million American adults have some form of an affective disorder, and roughly 5 percent of Americans suffer from major depression.
Women are twice as likely as men to experience major depression; one in four women, as opposed to one in eight men, are likely to experience a mood disorder at some point in their lives.
It takes an average of eight years to get a proper diagnosis of major depression.
Depression is more widespread than coronary heart disease (7 million), cancer (6 million), and AIDS (200,000).
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