There are holidays and recognition days almost for everything. So, there should not be a big surprise that October 8 is National Depression Screening Day. The first of these days occurred in October 1990, when Douglas Jacobs, MD followed through on his idea that screening for mental disorders should be no different from screening for other physical illnesses. Since that inaugural event 25 years ago, the program has greatly expanded, and similar awareness days for a variety of mental disorders, such as eating disorders and problems with alcohol use, now take place throughout the year. These screening events are held in the community, at schools, at workplaces, and in the military.
Sadness touches all of our lives at different times, but depression can have enormous depth and staying power. It is more than a passing bout of sadness or dejection, or feeling “down.” It can leave you feeling overwhelmed and can sap the joy out of once-pleasurable activities. It has physical, as well as emotional, symptoms. You may find that you cannot sleep or eat, that you are fatigued, or that you have headaches or other aches and pains that seem to have sprung up without a cause.
If you have ever suffered from depression or been close to someone who has, you know that this illness cannot be lifted at will, or wished away. A man in the grip of depression cannot solve his problems by showing a little more backbone. Nor can a woman, who is depressed, simply shake off the blues.
Too many people struggle silently with depression. Do not be among them. Talk with your doctor, attend a depression screening event, or use an online tool. There are medications and treatments that can help. Effective treatment can lighten your mood, strengthen your connections with loved ones, allow you to rediscover satisfaction in your interests and hobbies, and make you feel more like yourself again.
Research continues to pave the way for better treatment of mood disorders. Genetic discoveries and brain imaging techniques are helping doctors better understand the biology of depression, which may make more targeted, personalized treatment possible.
Right now, to find real and lasting relief, you may need patience and persistence — which can be a tall order when you are feeling depressed. Some people find a medication or therapy that works for them right away. But for many others, the treatment path takes several turns and an occasional detour. You may need to try several medications, alter a dose, or try a new therapist. Side effects, health insurance coverage, and the stigma associated with having a mood problem can be roadblocks, but you can overcome them. There are even self-care strategies (including exercise, diet, and meditation) and alternative therapies that help you heal.
Screening effort might be different, starting from the detailed elaboration diagnostic methodic to a simple two-item questionnaire. The Patient Health Questionnaire-2 (PHQ-2) asks,
Over a 2-week period, have you been bothered by
(1) little interest or pleasure in doing things; or
(2) feeling down, depressed or hopeless?
Answering yes to either item means the problem should be evaluated more fully. The primary care provider may make a referral to a mental health provider, but there is enormous value when initial evaluation and treatment can begin in the primary care setting.
The task force focused special attention this time on women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth to a child. This is quite important because mood problems are surprisingly common during these periods. A majority of women experience transient changes in mood, but up to 15% of new mothers may experience significant depression during pregnancy or after the baby is born.
Anyone who is suffering should not debate what it means to have a “significant” mood problem. If you have gotten to the point of wondering about it, that is the time to speak up, get support, and consider helpful options.
A set of new recommendations released by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force say that depression is the top cause of disability among adults and call for widespread depression screenings.
The recommendations are an update to the 2009 version, which left it up to the doctor. These new guidelines now include pregnant and postpartum women as well.
Specifically, the Task Force reported that early screening is moderately effective in detecting and providing appropriate care to persons suffering from depression, whether or not symptoms are present. Certain risk factors are often associated with adult depression--those experiencing significant changes in their lives, such as childbirth, sudden loss, chronic illness, family histories of mental illness, and those who struggle with substance use are at higher risk for developing depression. Screening tests and assessments by mental health professionals can be very useful in detecting depression, and these treatments usually includes antidepressants and psychotherapy either alone or in combination, depending on the severity of depressive symptoms.
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