The University Record, July 30, 1997

Early warning signs of a major depression can fly under patients' psychicradar

By Deborah Gilbert
News and Information Services

The initial stage of a major depression, which recurs in 50 percentto 85 percent of all patients who experience a first epi sode, is like astealth bomber. It seems to fly under a patient's radar in the guise ofvaguely negative, uncomfortable emotions that patients don't at first identifyas warning signs of depression.

Instead--even though they have experienced major dep ression before--patientsdeny what they glimpse on their psychic screens, attribute their fatigueand stress to external demands, and put on a front to conceal their distress,according to a study from the School of Nursing.

"It is important for patients and their families to learn how torecognize the early warning signs of an oncoming depression because earlyintervention can prevent or minimize relapse or recurrence," saysBonnie M. Hagerty, assistant professor of nursing. "There is som eevidence that the 'prodromes' or early symptoms of depression, while theyvary from patient to patient, are fairly consistent within each patient.

"Also, research suggests that patients generally experience atleast one psychiatric symptom prior to the onset of depressed mood--generalizedanxiety, perhaps, or sadness, irritability, impaired work, decreased initiative,loss of interest, fatigue or insomnia."

Hagerty's study of the early warning signs and subsequent course ofmajor depres sion is reported in the April issue of the Journal of Orthopsychiatry.She and her colleagues conducted a series of focus group sessions overthe course of a year with 16 people who had experienced more than one episodeof depression.

The U-M r esearchers identified four consistent themes in the onset stagesof depression:

Hagerty's colleagues on the study were Reg A. Williams, associate professorof nursing, and Michelle Liken, doctoral candidate in nursing.