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All Adults Should Be Screened for Depression, Panel Says

February 04, 2016

In 2014, nearly 16 million Americans experienced depression. Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the country, but until now health experts had issued screening recommendations largely based on the availability of mental health services.

However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has released updated recommendations that call for all adults 18 and older to be screened for depression.

Overview of the New Recommendations

The task force says it revised screening recommendations because mental health services are more accessible today than when it last issued its 2009 report.

The new recommendations suggest that all adults over age 18 get regular screening for depression. However, the panel did not detail how frequently screening should happen. Some health experts suggest that patients do this during their annual check-up and that people with certain chronic health conditions (including diabetes and heart disease) get screened at least once a year.

Doctors can give patients a questionnaire to screen for depression. Questions may ask patients whether they have felt tired or had little energy in recent weeks, whether they had trouble falling asleep and whether they’ve lost interest in things they previously enjoyed. If the questionnaire indicates depression, we can follow up with an accurate diagnosis and the appropriate treatment options.

Treatment for Depression

The new recommendations aren’t law, but doctors who decide to do regular screenings must ensure they have the resources to refer patients to the right specialists who can help them.

It’s also important to remember that if you have private health insurance, you’re entitled to mental health treatment. Most people think treatment for depression only involves antidepressants, but medication often isn’t the best option for most patients because of the potential side effects, including gastrointestinal bleeding and suicidal behavior.

Cognitive behavior therapy is the most recommended treatment for depression. This therapy helps patients recognize negative thought patterns that lead to certain behaviors and replace them with more positive thoughts. The therapy involves multiple steps in which patients first identify false perceptions that lead to negative thinking, then recognize these negative thoughts and decide for themselves whether there is evidence to support this thinking. As patients progress through treatment, they ultimately establish stronger, more positive views about themselves and the outside world. Studies have shown that cognitive behavior therapy may be just as effective as antidepressants in treating depression.

In addition to cognitive therapy, exercise, meditation and mindfulness are very effective for stress and mild to moderate depression.

Saving More Lives

The updated recommendations are so important because people who experience depression may be hesitate to seek treatment. However, not doing so could be life-threatening, as 90 percent of suicides are related to mental illness.

Unfortunately, there is still a stigma surrounding mental health that we need to erase. These recommendations raise awareness about how commonplace depression is. Having the conversation will help people get diagnosed early and get the right treatment as soon as possible. And that could be lifesaving for millions of Americans who battle this disorder.