Mental health may have turned a new leaf as a major health concern, a step that mental health care professionals have been encouraging for years. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force makes recommendations for preventative health care measures such as screenings, services, supplements, medications and lifestyle changes that would improve the quality of life for patients where the benefits outweigh the risks. This group has recommended routine depression screenings during primary care visits since 2002. In a new development they recently amended their recommendation with more emphasis on depression screenings for women who are childbearing and childrearing.
It is estimated that 12% of Americans experience moderate to severe depression or anxiety. Nearly half of this population admits that their mental state affects their professional and personal lives to a large extent. Without routine depression screenings, up to half of depression cases go undetected and undiagnosed.
The recommendation of routine depression screenings puts mental health in the same category as other serious and chronic physical health conditions including diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes or Alzheimer’s disease. The screening process is as innocuous as they come, a simple questionnaire from health care providers regarding the mental state and feelings of depression, anxiety and stress of patients. This is far less invasive and less expensive than screenings and procedures for other potential health risks such as MRIs, mammograms, colonoscopies and biopsies.
While health care providers recognize mental health as an important element of holistic health and preventative health care, a stigma remains in the eyes of our society. This may be one reason that depression screenings are even more necessary. If someone had a physical ailment, they may be more likely to raise a red flag than if they have bouts of depression or anxiety. Yet the repercussions of mental health disorders can be just as devastating, especially as mental health is intimately intertwined with physical health and can lead to further health complications.
For women, depression screenings are especially important in childbearing and childrearing years. Adding new family members can be a huge stressor. With added hormones and the responsibility of caring for a new life, pregnant women and new mothers are at increased risk for depression. And when mothers suffer, babies suffer too. That’s why the USPSTF updated the recommendation with an emphasis on routine depression screenings for pregnant and postpartum women.
Mental health is just as crucial to our overall health outlook as our physical health. Health care providers can help their patients identify and get treatment for mental health problems by following the new depression screening guidelines.