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M E N T A L S T A T E From presidents to paupers: The state of the psychic nation page 2
Many presidents suffered now-treatable mental illnesses

Date published: 4/23/2006


Many factors can contribute to clinical depression: genetic traits, stressful events, illness, medications, hormones, and other factors. For most people, a number interplay. For others, a single factor can spark the illness. Oftentimes, people become depressed for no apparent reason.

Depression should be taken seriously since it can complicate other medical conditions--and even be severe enough to lead to suicide.

Yet fewer than half of those with this illness seek professional help because they believe depression isn't serious, that they can treat it themselves, or that it is a personal weakness rather than a serious medical illness.

Advancements in understanding the causes of depression and how its symptoms can be reduced or eliminated have come a long way since Lincoln's time. Today, help for depression is widely available and almost always successful.

Treatment usually involves "talk therapies," such as cognitive behavioral therapy, from a licensed mental health care professional--and can sometimes include the use of antidepressant medications. Research indicates that a combination of the two yields the best results.

The National Mental Health Association, the nation's oldest and largest nonprofit organization addressing mental health and mental illness, is working to dispel the stigma surrounding mental health problems and treatment, most recently through a partnership with The History Channel.

In January, the documentary "Lincoln" aired on The History Channel, detailing the 16th president's battle with mental illness, through his own writings and commentary by modern historians. Lincoln's example inspires and informs Americans about mental illness and proves that it can be overcome with dedication, the support of family and friends, and professional care.

As Lincoln himself once wrote: "That some achieve great success, is proof to all that others can achieve it, as well."

CYNTHIA WAINSCOTT is the president and CEO of the National Mental Health Association.

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