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Untreated, Mild May Become Major Depression

Early symptoms should not be seen as benign, experts say

THURSDAY, Feb. 4 (HealthDay News) -- For many people whose depression goes untreated, symptoms persist and worsen over time, eventually leading to a diagnosis of major depression, according to new research.

The finding stems from a study of 348 adults who had been diagnosed with mild depressive symptoms by their primary care physicians. They were not receiving treatment for depression at the time of the visit and had not received any such treatment in the previous year.

Four years later, the researchers, from Columbia University, found that 62 percent of the group was experiencing major depression. In addition, their level of social functioning was significantly worse and they were more than six times as likely as non-depressed people to have made one or more visits to a psychiatric emergency room in the preceding year.

The researchers also found that mild depression in the initial assessment predicted some type of alcohol or drug use disorder at the follow-up, as well as poor or fair emotional and physical health.

The study is in the February issue of Psychiatric Services.

"These findings come in the wake of intensive focus by the media on a study reported in January, which showed that depressed patients with mild symptoms did not do any better with medication than with placebo, suggesting that patients with mild depression don't need treatment," the study's lead author, Myrna M. Weissman, a Columbia University professor, said in a news release from the American Psychiatric Association. "Of course, patients in a clinical trail are receiving a considerable amount of attention and are not untreated."

"Our findings suggest that mildly depressed, untreated patients do not have a benign course of illness," she said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about depression.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Psychiatric Association, news release, Feb. 1, 2010

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