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October is National Depression Awareness Month!

Finding Hope in the Darkness of Depression

Everyone experiences moments of sadness in their life. In fact, you probably don’t have to look that far back into your life to find the last time you had a “blue” moment. Feeling sad is a completely natural and even healthy emotion that is simply a part of life’s ups and downs. When these feelings arise, they may last a few days, but we can still push through the daily routine, and it’s not long until we’re back to our regular selves.

For some people, however, that sadness isn’t the same as what everyone else experiences with day-to-day life. In fact, the sadness they feel isn’t really even sadness; it’s an unquenchable feeling of loneliness, hopelessness, blackness, despair, anxiety, and fatigue. And it lingers. It doesn’t just pass after a few days, weeks, months, or even years. In the words of Barbara Kingsolver, it “is like cancer.”

Today, this “cancer” affects over 300 million people worldwide. It’s name? Depression

What is Depression?

Depression is a mental health disorder that results in persistent feelings of emptiness, irritability, hopelessness, loss of interest, and more. Ultimately, these feelings impair one’s ability to live life normally. Depression comes in various degrees and often arises as a result of several factors, including stressful life events, past trauma, genetics, medications, insufficient mood regulations in the brain, and more.

In the past, doctors assumed that depression affected mostly adults. Today, depression is becoming more common among women. Not only that, but it is also affecting more children and teenagers, manifesting itself more as irritability than the traditional “sad” mood.

When most people think of depression, they often think of the mental and emotional strain that people experience. Depression, however, effects more than just your mental health. It can lead to several physical health problems, such as headaches, stomach issues, and physical tension. In more severe cases, it can co-occur with diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and heart disease. Depression is also the leading cause of disability for people between the ages of 15 and 44, and the leading cause of suicidal deaths.

Depression Awareness

October is National Depression Awareness Month. Being aware of depression means not only learning about it and what you can do to help others, but it also means being aware of the symptoms so that you can recognize depression in yourself and others. While many people are aware of their depression, many may still not be. If you experience any of the symptoms of depression, it is important that you visit with a qualified health professional to get the help you may need. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, or loneliness
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or hopelessness
  • Lack of interest in hobbies or activities
  • Lingering fatigue
  • Restlessness and difficulty sleeping
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Physical health issues without a clear explanation

There are many more symptoms of depression, and most doctors say that in order to be diagnosed with depression, you need to experience several of these symptoms nearly every day, for the whole day, for a minimum of two weeks.

If you feel like you consistently experience any symptoms of depression, the first thing you can do is get screened. This year, October 11, 2018, is National Depression Screening Day. On this day, you can visit a local screening site, or take an online screening test. These screening tests are a great tool to help identify those who may truly be suffering from depression, ultimately helping them get the help they need sooner.

What You Can Do to Treat Depression

Depending on how severe your depression is and what caused it, there are many things you can do to help yourself get through to the other side. You can open up to a friend, family member, or health professional; remove stressful things and people from your life; socialize more often; take medication; exercise more frequently; get better sleep; and more. By working with others, you can figure out what triggers your depression and how you can remove those triggers.

Of course, all of this is much easier said than done, but just remember that you are not alone in this fight. Not everyone may understand exactly what you’re feeling, but you have people who are here to help you climb out of depression, one day at a time. I understand the severe impact that depression can have on someone’s life and want to do all I can to help those suffering from depression rediscover themselves and take back their lives.

If you or a loved one are dealing with hard times, please phone my office to set up an appointment today. You are worth it!

(719) 644-7014

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To all my African Goddesses…

I am what I am, woman, soul, spirited
I am fearfully and wonderfully created
I am what no man can do without
I am meant to deliver with no doubt
I am behind every successful man
I am what was created out of a rib of a man
I am what I instill today in the future tomorrow
I am that feels the pain others will never feel
I am that bleeds without getting hurt
I am emotional and fragile I easily get hurt
I am that heals by my words and understanding
I am the producer of fine product
I am who’s character is reflected in my conduct
I am the one with my hands open wide for the weak
I am what every child seeks
I am a mentor and role model for many
I am not imaginary
I am strong even when left alone
I am never weak forever
I am the super diva
I am unstoppable
I am capable of doing the impossible
I am self-sufficient
I am self-indulgent
I am young and sophisticated in my own way
I am with the semblance of a new day
I hold my head high when its supposed to hang low
I am beautiful, I am joyful
I am the perfect imperfect
I am mistreated, misunderstood and mistaken
I am underestimated and often shaken
I can’t be outrun or outmatched
In being everything that I am
I am what I am, soul and spirited African woman


abigail sikwenda
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Understanding Critical Components of the Brain’s Stress Circuitry

Study identifies how the PVT interacts with other brain areas during stress

 • Science Update

Everyone feels stressed from time to time. While people often learn to deal with stress in a healthy, adaptive way, sometimes people respond to stress in a maladaptive way, which can put them at greater risk for developing mental illnesses. Now, a new study conducted by researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has revealed more about the organization and function of a brain structure that may serve a key role in linking stress detection to the development of adaptive behaviors. The study, published online June 18, 2018, appears in Nature Neuroscience.

The paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus (PVT) is a brain structure that has been identified as a player in emotional processing, learning, and in adaptive responses to stress. Although knowledge of the role of this brain structure in stress responses is growing, researchers are still working to understand how this structure is organized and how it connects with other parts of the brain.

The PVT has a unique place in the brain, receiving inputs from brain areas that make it sensitive to both environmental cues as well as to internal bodily signals. The dual nature of these inputs has led some to hypothesize that the PVT may serve as a critical link in the brain, helping to integrate information about environmental stressors and internal physiological states to guide behavior. In this study, NIMH IRP researchers investigated the cellular and circuit mechanisms by which stressors impact PVT function. To do this, the researchers examined the contribution of different neurotransmitter systems in the PVT. They found that, during stress, dopamine (a major modulator of brain function) triggered a reduction in inhibition of the PVT. Notably, the disinhibition produced by dopamine made the PVT more sensitive to aversive outcomes.

“A stressful event typically leads to an increase in our sensitivity to new stressors, which suggests that a ‘stress memory’ center exists in the brain,” said study author Mario Penzo, Ph.D., chief of the Unit on the Neurobiology of Affective Memory at the NIMH. “Previously, scientists speculated that the PVT may be such a center. We now have evidence that indicates this is indeed the case. Our results suggest that stress-induced changes of the PVT circuit may promote susceptibility to future stressors.”

A surprising observation made by the researchers was that the stress-induced disinhibition of the PVT by dopamine was brought about through input from the locus coeruleus (LC). The LC is a small structure of the mammalian brainstem that is involved in physiological responses to stress and panic, but that it is primarily thought to do so via the release of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine. According to lead study author B. Sofia Beas, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the NIMH Unit on the Neurobiology of Affective Memory, the uncovering of dopaminergic modulation of the midline thalamus by the LC was unexpected and remarkable.

“Our finding that the LC, which is primarily known as a hub for norepinephrine, is the main source of dopamine to the midline thalamus is outstanding, given that this region is normally thought of as a norepinephrine center and not as a dopaminergic one,” said Beas. “This finding also emphasizes the intricacies of the neurotransmitter systems and challenges how they are defined in the nervous system”

While the researchers know that the PVT plays a role in stress processing, they are currently working to better understand how modulation there impacts downstream structures that are also involved in emotional processing and adaptive responding.

The findings help clarify the structural and functional roles of an important piece of the brain’s stress circuity and provide a platform for future research into how the brain responds to and is impacted by, stress.

An overlay image of the PVT showing the terminals from the locus coeruleus (red) and the neurons that project to the nucleus accumbens (green).

An overlay image of the PVT showing the terminals from the locus coeruleus (red) and the neurons that project to the nucleus accumbens (green). Image credit: B. Sofia Beas, Mario A. Penzo, and Nature Neuroscience.


Beas, B. S., Wright, B. J., Skirzewski, M., Leng, Y., Ho Hyun, J., Koita, O., … Penzo, M. A. (2018). The locus coeruleus drives disinhibition in the midline thalamus via a dopaminergic mechanismNature Neuroscience, 21, 963–973.