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Home > Research Articles > Experts: Half Of Clinically Depressed Not Diagnosed

InteliHealth News Service

Saturday, October 12, 2002

Oct. 10, 2002

By Lisa Ellis

InteliHealth News Service

If you were depressed, you'd certainly know it, right?

Well, maybe not.

Experts estimate that about half of the 20 million Americans who are clinically depressed, and could benefit from treatment, have not been diagnosed.

Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Douglas G. Jacobs, M.D., started National Depression Screening Day 11 years ago in an effort to find and help some of the millions of Americans who were suffering alone.

The annual program, which takes place Oct. 10, has expanded to 2,000 sites nationwide. It now screens for not only depression but also manic-depression (bipolar disorder), generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Dr. Jacobs, executive director of National Depression Screening Day, urges anyone with troubling symptoms to seek screening. "People shouldn't have to say, 'Do I have depression, should I go to this screening?' If they're not feeling right, they should go."

The PTSD screening began in 2001 as a response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. This year is the first year that all sites will offer it, however, says Dr. Jacobs, who is an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard.

It's not known whether more participants showed signs of mental illness last year, the first screening after the attacks, Dr. Jacobs says, because no funds have been available to analyze the numbers. National Depression Screening Day will be analyzing its data this year for such trends.

"What we know about depression is that 50 percent of cases are brought on by negative life events; 50 percent come out of the blue," he says. "Given that this year has had an inordinate number of negative events, one would intuit that there would be more cases of depression."

"The events of the past year have affected us all," Dr. Jacobs says. "It is understandable, and even normal for people to feel sad, angry, tense, or irritable; to have difficulty sleeping or nightmares, but these symptoms should resolve over time. If these symptoms persist or interfere with the person's ability to function normally, professional help should be sought."

About 80,000 to 100,000 people get screened each year, and usually the tests show that three out of four participants need a full professional evaluation, Dr. Jacobs says. Because this is a self-selected group, the percentage of illness is higher than in the general population, he says.

"Scoring positive on the test doesn't mean that you have the disorder," just that you need further evaluation, he says. "One of our strengths is that if we can get people to the screening and show them that their symptoms are consistent with a diagnosis and they should get an evaluation, 60 [percent] to 70 percent of them go."

The screening includes an educational presentation on mood and anxiety disorders, one or more questionnaires and a discussion with a mental-health professional.

Part of the message, Dr. Jacobs says, is that depression and other disorders have recognizable symptoms, and that they can be treated. "The treatments do not have to be long-term, and the earlier you get treatment the better the response."

Anyone who wants to locate a nearby screening site can check online or call (800) 520-NDSD (6373).