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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Our Sisters' Place: In the mood to help

By Susan Poizner
Special to The Toronto Sun

Julie is moody and sullen. She rarely smiles and seems uninterested in life. She's constantly listening to the melancholy music of the late Kurt Cobain, who committed suicide at the age of 27. Is this ordinary teenage angst? Or is this 16-year-old suffering from depression resulting from a treatable hormone-related mood disorder?
The majority of mood disorders are under- reported and misdiagnosed, says Dr. Anthony Levitt, psychiatrist-in-chief at Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre.

This is a question staff at Our Sisters' Place would like health workers to think more about. Founded in June, the centre provides information and peer support for women who think they may be suffering from a mood disorder. One of the centre's goals is also to teach health workers to identify these problems early so that they can be treated.

"Statistics tell us that one in five women have a mood disorder during their lifetime. Many of those are hormone related. Women may be affected by hormonal changes throughout the monthly cycle, or related to the cycle of life, adolescence, pregnancy, postpartum and menopause," says Karen Nusbaum, director of Our Sisters' Place.

The principle symptom of these disorders is, of course, a depressed mood, according to Dr. Anthony Levitt, psychiatrist-in-chief at Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Science Centre.

We all feel sad or low from time to time, but those with a mood disorder experience a sadness that is pervasive. It goes on all day, every day, for weeks at a time.

Other symptoms are physical, including a change in appetite or weight. The sufferer may have trouble sleeping or may sleep too much. Some experience difficulties with concentration and memory. Many experience feelings of low self-esteem. In extreme cases sufferers may contemplate suicide. And a mood disorder can strike at any age.

"Some perimenopausal women are experiencing their first depression at this time. These are women in their 40s who are experiencing the physical symptoms of menopause and then the mood disorder hits them. They're not prepared for this. Nor frankly are their doctors," Nusbaum says.
We've all experienced sadness at some point in our lives. But how do you know whether these emotions are the result of depression or a mood disorder? The National Mental Health Association has developed an online depression-screening test that can be found at www.depression ingtest.htm. For more information on hormone-related mood disorders, visit or call 1-866-363-6663. The Mood Disorders Association of Ontario also offers plenty of information and links on its Web site at

Levitt says that out of every 100 people with a mood disorder, only 50 will seek help, partially because the nature of the disease leads them to believe they are to blame rather than ill.

Out of the 50, only 25 will be diagnosed and treated for depression, and only 12 of them will receive appropriate treatment that will allow them to life a full, happy life.

"There's a wide array of very effective treatments that work well and work quickly, from medication to counselling to hormones. And often, the mental illness is a symptom of another medical illness that can be treated successfully at the same time. But the earlier we identify the illness, the better the outcome," Levitt says.

"Our message to health-care providers is 'listen to your patients'," Nusbaum says. "When women come in and say they're not feeling like themselves, there's often a lot more to it. These women are slipping through the cracks. They need to be heard, they need support and they need treatment."

(Susan Poizner ( is a Toronto-based freelance writer.)

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