Annette Tritico, RN, speaks to the Westlake Senior Center regarding depression and mental illness.

WESTLAKE — Sadness and grief are a part of the human condition. But when those feelings remain, despite every attempt to relieve them, medical intervention may be necessary.

Annette Tritico, RN, a Patient Advocate with Evangeline Home Health, listed some of the warning signs of clinical depression in a presentation at the Westlake Senior Center, Thursday.

Tritico, who said her passion is helping caregivers, said depression is very common among those who tend to the needs of the ill or frail.

“Not all mental illness is severe. Not everyone with mental illness is ‘crazy’,” said Tritico.  Extreme anxiety and dementia, under which Alzheimers falls, are categorized as mental illnesses.

She said the difference between clinical depression and the normal sadness or grief in response to loss, illness or change is the duration and severity of symptoms. “True clinical depression is when you’ve tried everything you used to do to make yourself feel better – socialize, exercise, treat yourself – and none of them work.”

Insomnia, low energy or chronic tiredness, loss of self esteem, self deprecation, decreased ability to think clearly, social withdrawal, irritability or excessive anger, and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide are some of the warning signs of depression. Depression manifests itself differently for everyone. Tritico said that while everyone may experience each of those individually, if you suffer from a minimum of four of the physical symptoms, it is time to visit a general practitioner, counselor, or psychiatrist.

She said that the median age of her listeners meant most of them had come of age during a time in which mental illness was stigmatized, as was seeking help for it. But scientists now know that depression isn’t all in your head, so to speak. Tritico said it occurs when neurotransmitters in the brain stop functioning properly, which leads to changes in cortisol levels. These changes can be detected in blood tests.

Untreated depression can lead to psychoses like delusions, hallucinations, and hearing voices. “We have to humble ourselves and be smart enough, wise enough to know we might need help,” said Tritico.

Along with professional medical attention, attitude is also a key factor in healing. “Depression feels like you’ve gotten stuck,” said Tritico. “One of my favorite saying is, ‘God gives us the boat, but we have to row it to shore’.

“We feel the way we tell ourselves to feel,” she said. “Sometimes it boils down to what you choose to tell yourself.

“Just know that there is beauty down the road,” she said. “Be willing to ask for help.”

Tritico will be the keynote speaker at a free seminar on caregiving set for 10 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 30 at the Church of the Good Shepherd, located at 715 Kirkman St. in Lake Charrles.