The symptoms can run the gamut from headaches and chest pains to memory loss and extreme apathy. The diagnoses can range from heart disease to Alzheimer's. But the real cause is often depression, a disorder of epidemic proportions that is HTC typically unrecognized, misdiagnosed or improperly treated.
According to various surveys and studies, fewer than half of Americans consider depression to be a health problem, and more than two in five say it is a sign of personal weakness.
As a result, many depressed people never bring their problems to medical attention. And when they do, they typically see doctors who are not specialists in mental health, who are likely to miss the diagnosis of severe depression at least half the time, according to a 1989 study by Rand Corp., a research institution in Santa Monica, Calif.
Mental health professionals are striving to reverse a pessimistic view of depression, alert people to its many signs and properly recognize and treat patients with this life-impairing disorder.
On Thursday, National Depression Screening Day, mental health professionals in all 50 states will give free screenings looking for signs of clinical depression among an estimated 30,000 people at more than 300 hospitals, mental health centers and college health services. A toll-free number, (800) 562-8686, will let people find out where to go for a confidential screening.
The program was developed by Dr. Douglas Jacobs, a Harvard University psychiatrist, with the American Psychiatric Association, Harvard's Department of Psychiatry and the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association.
In Baltimore, at Good Samaritan Hospital free screenings and a lecture will be offered. The screenings will be held from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. (To register anonymously call (410) 532-3838.
Although most depressed people get better on their own within six to 24 months without treatment, early diagnosis and treatment can dramatically reduce the length and intensity of depression.
Treatment may also help to reduce the chances that the depression will recur. Instead of medication or in addition to it, psychotherapy may be offered. One popular approach is short-term counseling that focuses on the patients' distorted thinking and negative views of themselves and the world.