October 8, 2015 is National Depression Screening Day. The first of these days occurred in October 1990, when my colleague Douglas Jacobs, MD followed through on his idea that screening for mental disorders should be no different than 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 can’t 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’ve 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 can’t 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. Don’t 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.
You can learn more about National Depression Screening Day through the organization Screening for Mental Health (SMH). SMH helps organize depression screening events around the country — you can find a list of participants by state here. To learn more about depression, take our quiz. You can also find myriad information on mental health issues at www.helpguide.org.