In a large conference room at an Annapolis office park, 57 individuals, identified by number only, gathered yesterday to find out if they are depressed enough to need treatment.
They were among nearly 200 who had signed up for free evaluations at a pair of two-hour screenings offered by the Anne Arundel Medical Center, part of the second annual National Depression Screening Day.
Number 65, an Annapolis mother, still cries every day -- two years after her 22-year-old son was killed in a car accident.
Number 16, a 43-year-old woman from Lothian who was diagnosed with uterine cancer last year, joined a support group, but still feels pressured and unhappy.
And Number 4, a 51-year-old woman who drove two hours from the Eastern Shore, said she started feeling depressed after her fiance died last year, and when her mother, who needs full-time care, moved into her home, things got even worse.
"I'm just having difficulty coping," she said. "I need to know if thiis natural or if I need help."
Dr. Arthur M. Warwick, chief of psychiatric service at Anne Arundel Medical Center, said more than 10 million Americans suffer from depression during any six months. It occurs twice as often in women as in men.
Although most depressive illnesses can be treated, fewer than a third of those suffering seek professional help. For some, it's too expensive; others don't know where to find help, or fear the stigma connected with mental illnesses.
"Depression affects one out of five adults sometime in their lifetime," Dr. Warwick told the group. "Of those treated, more than 80 percent improve. . . . If you're feeling enough distress to think there's a problem, you should probably be evaluated."
Yesterday's turnout was much higher than expected, said JoAnn Schropp, one of the organizers.
"I think people are becoming more aware of the problem and are more willing to seek help," she said. "Given the response this year, I certainly think this is something the hospital would want to continue."
In fact, 24 of those in the first group displayed enough symptoms to warrant further help, said Carolyn Tonty, a hospital spokeswoman.
After the lecture, professional staff members offered advice and referrals for treatment.
A brochure distributed by staff members described some of the most common symptoms as loss of appetite, diminished interest in activities, fatigue, insomnia, lack of concentration and thoughts of death or suicide.
People who have had prior episodes of depression, have a family history of depression or are experiencing severe or unanticipated stress are more likely to develop the illness than others, doctors said.
For many of those in the first group yesterday, it was the first time they had sought help.
"This is a very good thing. Most people don't know where to go for help," said one woman, who saw an advertisement in a local newspaper. "They're professionals here and they can evaluate us and give us some advice. And it doesn't cost $100."
The screening was offered at seven sites in Maryland besides Anne Arundel Medical Center, which was participating for the first time.
The hospital also will offer a two-day seminar, "Depressive Illness: What you need to know," on Saturdays, Oct. 17 and 24, from 9 a.m. to noon. The cost is $10. For further information call, 224-5777. Or call the Inpatient Psychiatry Service, at 267-1483.