Primary care doctors encouraged to screen for depression

Statistics show about 7 percent of all US adults experience depression every year

A nationally-respected health panel is asking doctors to do more when it comes to mental health.

Statistics show about 7 percent of all US adults experience depression every year.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is asking primary care doctors to screen all patients for depression. On top of that, the panel is also asking doctors to screen for depression during pregnancy and after giving birth.

One clinical health psychologist said taking a holistic approach is what’s best for the patients.

“As behavioral health providers, we have known depression is a problem and should be better assessed. I think hospitals and institutions are learning more about how this impacts people not only emotionally, but physically, and so that is where this push is coming from,” said Afton Koball, Ph.D., a clinical healthy psychologist at Gundersen Health System.

For a while now, patients at Gundersen Health System have been asked to fill out questionnaires.

“It’s capturing over the past two weeks how frequently have you felt or experienced these feelings or symptoms,” said Catherine Schuman, Ph.D., director of integrated care at Gundersen Health System.

Each category is numbered, and at the end of the questionnaire, the numbers are added up.

“When someone scores a 12 or above, then we should take some kind of action. If they have lower scores, but they are saying it interferes with their quality of life, we are still going to address it and respond to it, but this gives us a flag you should be looking at this,” said Schuman.

Koball said depression is not an easy thing to talk about, but the earlier it is acknowledged, the better.

“The more patients get asked about it, I think, the more comfortable they feel talking about it, too. It starts to feel so normal, that it doesn’t feel like a shameful thing to talk about anymore,” said Koball.

“The fact that we are addressing it when they come to primary care and make it part of normal care, I think that helps takes away from the stigma of depression,” said Schuman.

One thing the task force did not make any recommendations for was how often someone should be screened for depression, because it really depends on the patient and what their primary doctor thinks is best. However, they said at least once a year is a good place to start.

Mayo Clinic Health System has a similar depression screening protocol, where they ask patients to fill out a questionnaire and then, based on the answers, the doctor will decide what to do next.