On the outside, Carol Gordon looked happy.
She was cheerful, responsible, a team player.
But when she left the structure of the working world for wide-open weekends or vacations, her mood fell apart.
"I was an incredible actress," Gordon said, remembering the 20 years she spent, from age 16 to her mid-40s, suffering from clinical depression but not receiving medical help. "But at home, I was not a good actress. I was very irritable, and unreasonable, as well as sad. I didn't understand what it was, really, until I was probably 38 or 39. I just thought it was a personal weakness."
Although Gordon is a licensed clinical social worker and counseled other people through depression, she said she didn't want to admit that she needed medicine herself.
But slowly, with help and support from her husband and others, Gordon decided to seek help. Now, she's feeling more hopeful than she ever has.
What helped her most, she said, was understanding the physical nature of depression, the fact that in clinical depression, brain cells aren't connecting well because of a chemical imbalance, which leads to breakdowns in thinking, solving problems and eventually a sense of hopelessness.
Like other illnesses based on chemical imbalances, such as diabetes, medication is sometimes the best or only answer.
Today is National Depression Screening day, and Gordon said she encourages anyone who thinks they may be suffering from clinical depression to seek help.
Gordon has counseled people in Steamboat Springs for the past 10 years. She is involved with the Suicide Crisis Intervention Lifeline and works as a clinical social worker.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 17 million Americans develop depression each year. Less than half of those suffering receive treatment.
One out of every five adults experiences depression at some point in their lives, the institute's research indicates.
"It can be a devastating illness if not treated," Gordon said. "When treated, most people can recover. ... So the purpose of National Depression Screening Day is to give people the opportunity to find out if this is a problem they have."
With treatment, people can begin to problem solve again, and so begin to feel hope again.
Feeling sad is a normal human emotion, Gordon said, but typically comes in waves or cycles. With clinical depression, the sadness doesn't go away.
People experiencing four or five symptoms of depression, including sad, anxious or irritable moods; low energy; changes in sleep or eating patterns; or thoughts of death or suicide, should seek help from a mental health professional.
At the far end of depression is suicide, Gordon said.
In the United States, a suicide occurs every 18 minutes, she said. That's 10.7 suicides for every 100,000 people. In Routt County, there is an average of five suicides each year, a rate that turns out to be almost three times the national rate.
But for people who seek help for depression, hope can come quickly.
More than 80 percent of people with depression improve with treatment by the end of one year, and many feel improvement in as little as eight weeks, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
The most successful treatment is a combination of counseling, medication and lifestyle changes, Gordon said.
For Gordon, getting medical treatment for depression is something she said she wished she had done years ago.
Now, though, she's thankful for the joy that she has.
"I can't even tell you the quality of life I have," she said. "I really love life and feel very hopeful, and just appreciate everything I have."
Anyone interested in being screened for clinical depression should call Steamboat Mental Health and arrange for a screening at 879-2141 or call the 24-hour line at 870-1244. A self-screening is available online at www.mentalhealth-