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Screening for Depressive Disorders: The First Step Toward Hope

October is National Depression & Health Screening Month.

Take it Seriously. Get Diagnosed. Save a Life.

“I’m so depressed!” How many times have you heard a friend say this phrase or you’ve said it yourself. Perhaps a bad day at work spurred the off-handed comment. Or maybe it was disappointment from not getting the job you applied for, an unexpected bill arrived, or the scale revealed that you gained a couple of pounds after vacation.

Definitely all disappointments. Definitely setbacks. But do these circumstances and accompanying feelings signal depression?

Feeling disappointed or depressed isn’t the same thing as being diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Just the same it isn’t unusual to hear a self-diagnosis. Dr. Google has made it tempting to list our symptoms and hit “search” – then proceed to determine our ailment – whether it be mental or physical.

Those of us in the medical community call it pathologizing – when a diagnosis is self-made within the realm of a normal experience or set of emotions. Individuals can be so certain of the diagnosis however, that they self-ascribed that it may take some convincing if a medical professional doesn’t agree. In the information age we live in, exposure to more terms, statistics, and data about mental health is a double-edged sword. While awareness can lessen stigma overall, it can also lead to following a path of misinformation that isn’t accurate of our own condition or experience.

Moody or Depressed?

We all experience days filled with mood fluctuations. When we understand that this is typical, it can help us be more at peace with our daily emotions. It is not uncommon to wake up one way, perhaps feeling content and rested, then we hear some disturbing topic on the news and find our feelings turning to sadness or anger. Then we see a friend for lunch and have a good time laughing and talking, which shifts our mood again. Later we may get aggravated on the drive home when traffic seems unbearable, and we find ourselves walking in the door shrouded with feelings of frustration.

It also is not unusual for sadness over a situation to last for days at a time. So, when should we be worried about our moods or concerned that what we are feeling isn’t normal? What is the difference between experiencing low or fluctuating moods that we may identify as depression and having a diagnosis of depressive disorder? One clue is when prolonged sadness and grief begin to define our every waking moment and pushes us toward isolation and lack of motivation and interest. While these are typical distinctions, getting officially diagnosed by a physician or psychiatrist is the best way to know for sure. Major depressive disorder can be characterized by:

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities

  • Mood swings

  • Prolonged sadness

  • An extreme sense of hopelessness

  • Suicidal thought patterns

  • Disrupted sleep, excessive sleepiness, insomnia, restlessness

  • Lack of appetite, excessive hunger

  • Low energy levels

  • Anxiety

  • Apathy

  • General discontent

  • Guilt

  • Agitation, excessive crying, irritability, restlessness, social isolation

  • Lack of concentration or slowness in activity

  • Weight gain or weight loss

  • Repeatedly going over thoughts

Depression impacts all areas of life and next to anxiety is the most common mental health disorder affecting more than 21 million adults in the US each year and 15% of youth ages 12-17.[1] The burden of depression impacts every area of an individual’s life – physical health as well as mental health – leading to inability to derive happiness from activities once previously enjoyed. Depression renders a high toll on productivity. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that there are 200 million lost workdays each year due to depression and that half of employees suffering are untreated.[2]

But those impacts are felt beyond the workplace. Family and friends of individuals who suffer from major depressive disorder can also be victims of its devastating effects. It is estimated that nearly 15% of those who suffer from severe depression will die by suicide.[3] That’s why it is important to recognize that most of those at risk are often the ones who show the fewest signs.

Common Suicide Warning Signs

Paying attention to red flags is crucial in spotting indicators that someone is at risk. Even more than the list of depression symptoms noted, recognizing if someone is wanting to end his or her life can start with noticing even subtle changes in behavior.

If someone you know suddenly seems to be acting differently, pay attention. We call it a “shift from baseline” which can mean a variety of things but trust your gut if something is telling you that someone is not themselves; don’t let those feelings take a back seat. The potential for a damaging outcome is too great. The result is too final if someone is sliding down the scale of depression.

Some signs to recognize if someone you love is suicidal[4]:

  • Sadness/Moodiness: The person has long-lasting sadness and mood swings.

  • Sudden calmness: After a period of depression or moodiness they suddenly seem calm.

  • Withdrawal: Avoiding friends or social activities and loss of interest or pleasure in activities they previously enjoyed.

  • Noticeable changes in personality, appearance, sleep patterns: Attitude or behavior changes, such as speaking or moving with unusual speed or slowness. Suddenly becoming less concerned about personal appearance. Sleeping much more or much less than typical.

  • Displaying dangerous or self-destructive behavior: Engaging in potentially dangerous activities, such as driving recklessly, having unsafe sex or drug and/or alcohol abuse.

  • Recent traumatic experience or life crisis: The death of a loved one or pet, divorce, or ending of a significant relationship, diagnosis of a major illness, job loss, or financial problems.

  • Desperation: Overwhelming feelings of hopelessness, not finding a reason to live, feeling they are a burden to others, feeling trapped or severe emotional pain.

  • Getting life in order: The person suddenly begins to make end-of-life decisions, making visits to family and friends, giving away personal possessions, making a will.

  • Searching online for ways to die: Individuals may start looking for ideas on the best way to end their life or research how to buy a firearm.

  • Talking about wanting to die: Not everyone who is considering suicide will say so and those with the highest intent are the ones most likely not to speak about it ahead of time; either way, take any threats of self-harm seriously.

Protective Factors

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., and is the second leading cause of death among people ages 15-24. But the highest risk is among older adults, ages 45-64. The second highest is among those 85 years or older. Males are four times more likely to die by suicide than females.[1]

While ultimately there isn’t an age group immune from thoughts of suicide, those in a lower socioeconomic status have a higher risk. Factors that are more protective against suicide are those who have more financial resources, have stable housing, have a good support system, enjoy a strong sense of purpose or self-esteem, and/or don’t live alone.

Individuals who have good coping skills, maintain hope for the future, are in therapy or may be working with a treatment team, have another layer of protection since there is opportunity for immediate resources and intervention.

Getting Screened and Seeking Treatment Can Bring a New Day

There’s no need to let depression overpower your life. In-person crisis centers, suicide telephone hotlines, and a variety of other resources exist, including online screening tools to help assess mental health struggles.

While seeing a physician or a psychiatrist is the best course of action to get started in treatment, sometimes it is too difficult to get someone to make an appointment to seek help. Think about doing it with them or start by suggesting an online screening tool to at least get them started in thinking about assessing their mental health state. Just interacting with a questionnaire on a reputable website can motivate someone to begin a dialogue to seek treatment.

Even those without symptoms of major depressive disorder but feel they need extra support through difficulties that are prompting bouts of intense sadness and grief may consider seeking guidance through therapy. Clarity Behavioral Health provides education and evaluation from experts who understand that it is important to meet clients where they are in their journey. Our professionals are trained to dig further to understand the root cause of the symptoms they are experiencing. We perform a thorough evaluation and use a diagnostic process that educates our clients while supporting them with an overall healing environment through therapy and/or medication that is individualized for their specific needs.

There’s no reason not to live your best life.


Mental Health Disorder Resources

There are a variety of ways to be assessed for depressive disorder, and many resources available online, but the PHQ-9 is the go-to depression screening tool used by professionals.

Consult the sources below for screening depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders and more mental health information.


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