PUBLISHED: 4:48 PM on Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Catching depression early key to relieving symptoms

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The mercury is dropping, daylight is dwindling and precipitation is persistent. Winter is near, and as it draws closer, some people sink into a dark shroud of depression. Anxiety, extreme sadness and feelings of helplessness begin to consume them, and not merely for hours or days but for weeks at a time.

"Depression is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. It can cloud everything," said Kristie Sellers, assistant director of behavioral health at Central Peninsula General Hospital.

Sellers said depression can have severe consequences when not identified and left untreated. It can affect interpersonal relationships with family, friends and co-workers, and hinder achievements and success at work or school.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 18.8 million Americans over the age of 18 suffer from major depression. Suicide, closely linked to depression, is the third leading cause of death in 10- to 24-year-olds.

To help identify people who may be suffering from depression, Sellers and other local mental health professionals recently conducted a free depression screening at Kenai Peninsula College.

Rae Sanders, a director of community services with CPCS, said the goal was to call attention to mental illness by educating people about the signs and symptoms of depression and the availability of treatment.

The screenings were meant to be informative, but not diagnostic, Sanders said.

"The clinicians make a recommendation if more services are needed, and they give a list of service providers," Sanders said.

"Individuals are also given a variety of up-to-date educational resources to take home," she added.

Sellers said of the more than 100 people screened during last year's event, more than half needed a referral. A few were also identified as needing immediate care based on the nature of their responses to questions related to suicide.

"It's hard to know how many people will actually get seen after connecting with us, but we give people a direction to help themselves," she said.

While it may seem odd that someone would be identified as needing help and then not seek services, Sellers said it's part of an unfortunate belief held by some in the general public.

"The stigma with some people is that depression is a moral condition or a sign of weakness, but the truth is that it's a health condition and it has an actual physical component," she said.

Sellers said the prospects for recovery from depression are very good, particularly when people seek help before their problems escalate.

"The idea is to get intervention as soon as possible to prevent or avoid prolonged suffering and other life-altering consequences," she said.