oct5Depression screening

October 05, 1998|By MEG H. PARTINGTON

Across the nation Thursday, Oct. 8, screenings will be offered for one of the most common and treatable mental illnesses.

On National Depression Screening Day, primary-care clinicians and mental health organizations will provide lectures about depression, answer questions and give people a chance to complete a questionnaire to see if they are in need of help, all free of charge. Educational videos also will be shown, and written materials will be provided.

--cont. from lifestyle--

"Sometimes this might be the first step" toward dealing with depression, said Curt Miller, chairman of Mental Health Association of Maryland, Washington County Branch. "Depression is very common and very treatable," he said.

Throughout the Tri-State area, five sites will offer screenings: Hagerstown Church of the Brethren, Frederick Memorial Hospital, EastRidge Health Systems in Martinsburg, W.Va., The Chambersburg Hospital and Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa.


Those who go to the screenings can anonymously fill out a questionnaire that contains "very nonjudgmental types of questions," said Lisa Boice, executive director of Franklin/Fulton Alliance for the Mentally Ill in Pennsylvania.

Miller said the form asks participants to rate how often they experience certain things, such as loss of energy or appetite, and how frequently they exhibit specific behaviors, like blaming themselves for something that happened.

"This is a simple screening to steer people in the right direction," not an in-depth series of inquiries that leads to a diagnosis, Miller said.

Mental health professionals at the sites will evaluate participants' answers, using a numerical rating system to determine the severity of their distress. The results will be discussed for 10 to 20 minutes with each individual, and recommendations will be made on what steps to take. Depending on the analysis, some people may be told they should seek a referral from a family physician, while others may be steered toward various mental health agencies, Miller said.

There are several types of treatment available, including psychotherapy, medication or a combination of both, Boice said.

Dr. Brian Wexler, a psychologist who also serves as director of adult outpatient services in Berkeley County for EastRidge Health Systems, said the analysis of questionnaires "holds up pretty well statistically." He emphasized, however, that people should not base their decisions for treatment on the results of one test.

Who should consider participating in National Depression Screening Day?

Those who acknowledge that they're having a difficult time and are wondering how serious a problem they have, Wexler said.

Individuals who "just feel like they're down" for a period of time, particularly more than two weeks, and those who are feeling hopeless or helpless may want to consider stopping by a local screening site, Wexler said.

Some other symptoms that might warrant attention are loss of interest in doing things that one normally enjoys, weight gain or loss, fidgetiness, lethargy, a sense of guilt that won't subside, difficulty concentrating or making decisions and contemplation of suicide, Wexler said.

The screenings are for people "who aren't able to jump-start themselves," Boice said.

Friends or family members of those with some of the symptoms could benefit, too.

Wexler said the information obtained during National Depression Screening Day teaches people "the difference between normal, everyday ups and downs and something more intense."

"Depression is a very normal human emotion," Boice said, but can be harmful when it reaches unmanageable levels.

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