Depression is a mental health issue that affects millions of Americans. It can strike anywhere and at any time. Depression may be caused by changes in life events, such as the death of a loved one or a lost job. It may also come from chemical imbalances in the brain, or even from the changes in season as sunlight grows shorter during the winter months. There are several types of depression; of particular concern is postpartum depression, which is a disorder becoming more common in the U.S. among women of child-bearing age.
The symptoms of depression vary. People affected by this condition may feel hopeless, may have difficulty getting a good night’s sleep, or may change eating habits. Some people may experience sexual dysfunction, especially reduced sexual desire and performance. Recent studies have shown that left untreated, depression can cause serious health issues, particularly in those patients who have had strokes or heart disease. Mild cases may lead to difficulties maintaining personal relationships or reduced job performance, while more serious cases can lead to hospitalization, loss of employment, and even suicide. Many people struggling with depression often turn to “self-medication”, looking for relief through excessive drug or alcohol use. This self-medication actually aggravates the depressed state and has terrible consequences for the health and wellbeing of people engaging in this behavior.
A large number of people don’t even know they are suffering from depression. Friends and family may notice changes in mood and behavior, but may chalk it up to the winter doldrums or may treat it like these changes will pass with time. The rates of depressed people is increasing so dramatically in the United States that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has recently issued guidelines for primary care physicians, urging them to screen all adult patients as part of their routine health assessments. Prevalence estimates of depressive disorders among adults range from 5% to 13% of the population – truly staggering numbers. The estimates drop slightly for adults older than 55. Adults to be screened include pregnant and postpartum women. Research on depression and the screening for this condition was conducted at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and by researchers with the USPSTF, and the results were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
In the research and the subsequent recommendations to primary healthcare providers, it was shown that screening methods to diagnose depression improves the accurate identification of patients struggling with this mental health condition. In the recommendation, researchers stressed that early identification through screening must come with robust treatment and after-care plans in place; diagnosing depression is useless without adequate treatment options available to those patients. While antidepressant medications come with an increased risk of suicide in patients, especially in young adults, the study highlights that this treatment regimen has more benefits than risks. Careful monitoring of patients, coupled with supportive care and counseling programs, seem to improve outcomes for patients suffering from the effects of major depression syndromes.