Researcher sets out to find ways to improve mental health screenings

As mental health professionals discover how prevalent major depression is in America, one would think that mental health screenings are a rather routine procedure.

That is not necessarily so. And a professor at Indiana University is setting out to determine why.

Clinical psychologist Cara Lewis has been awarded a $1.79 million federal grant to determine the best way to convince mental health professionals and primary care physicians to use an available mental health survey, according to the Indy Star.

The survey has been available for several years but the health care community has been slow to incorporate it into their mental health screening procedures.

"Depression can get easily overlooked," Lewis said in the interview. "There's a great divide between the treatment of health problems and mental health. Whereas the former gets measured pretty systematically, but the latter doesn't get measured. … Depression is the mental health corollary to high blood pressure."

The depression survey in question is known as the pHQ9.

The survey asks patients whether they have recently had trouble eating, sleeping or concentrating. Doctors then track patients' responses to determine whether treatment is helping their condition improve.

However, the Indy Star indicated that only about 5 to 20 percent of providers, including mental health professionals, use the tool routinely.

Depression statistics 
About 14.8 million Americans suffer from major depression, says the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. It is the leading cause of disability in American for those aged 15 to 44. Although depression can strike at any age, the median age of onset is 32.5, according to the ADAA website.

Depression occurs when patients feel sad, hopeless, or they become disinterested in many of the things that interested them previously. It's often characterized as "the blues" when it only lasts for a short period.

When such symptoms last for more than two weeks and they begin to interfere with necessities such as taking care of family, job responsibilities or school work, it could be a major depressive episode.

The ADAA says major depression is a treatable illness that affects the way a person thinks, feels, behaves, and functions. At any point in time, 3 to 5 percent of people suffer from major depression.

There are three types of depression: Major depression, persistent depressive disorder and bi-polar disorder.

Major depression is characterized by such symptoms as being continually sad or anxious; loss of weight or appetite; feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or guilt; loss of interest in activities, including sex; lack of concentration or focus; irritability and thoughts of death, suicide or attempting suicide. These types of symptoms will have been persistent for two weeks or longer.

Persistent depressive disorder involves many of the same symptoms of major depression but is generally less severe and the symptoms usually last about two years.

Bi-polar disorder is characterized by wild mood swings from extreme highs (mania) to extreme lows (depression). During the manic phase, bi-polar patients can exhibit irritability, a significant increase in energy, lack of desire for sleep, racing thoughts and inappropriate behavior in social situations. During the depressive phase, the sufferer's energy is markedly decreased, and they exhibit symptoms like those who suffer from major depression.