Depression is the most common of the psychiatric disorders and can often go undiagnosed.

David Mischoulon, MD, PhD
Director, Depression Clinical and Research Program, Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital

A Common Struggle

It is estimated that more than 15% of the population might experience depression at some point in their life. It’s a multifactorial illness which means you can both have a genetic predisposition for depression and situational factors like family conflicts, financial difficulties, problems in the workplace and other sources of stress can contribute to feelings of depression. 

Screening for depression

Screening for depression has become more and more routine at annual visits with primary care providers (PCPs). They are often the first clinicians to diagnose depression, which makes them very important in the fight against this illness.

“Mass General Primary Care implemented a collaborative care program with the Department of Psychiatry nearly a decade ago,” says Jeff Huffman, MD in the Department of Psychiatry at Mass General. “Screening itself does no good if you then can’t offer someone treatment. This program enables PCPs, social workers, and psychiatrists to work together to deliver care that makes a difference.”

The collaborative care program within Mass General Primary Care enables PCPs to screen for depression, and if positive, patients will meet with a social worker, who serves as a depression care manager to further assess their condition and evaluate their needs. A psychiatrist reviews and recommends treatment options and the social worker continues to follow-up with patient. This system of care means patients can keep their care in their PCP office where they likely feel most comfortable, while also providing convenient access to mental health care.

Talking to your PCP about depression

Beyond Mass General Primary Care, it’s common for PCPs to ask their patients about some of the more common symptoms of depression, such as depressed mood or loss of interest in one’s usual activities at their annual visits.  Some may have the patients fill out a questionnaire in the waiting area prior to their appointment, and then review the results when the patient comes into the office for the exam.

“If patients are concerned that they might have depression, they should describe to their PCP what they have been feeling,” says Dr. Mischoulon. “PCPs are trained to ask the right questions to make the diagnosis and recommend appropriate next steps.”

Depression Screening Resources & Support

Self-screening questionnaire

Mental Health America offers a self-screening tool with questions you can answer. The most important part of screening is finding support if the results suggest depression. Reach out to your primary care provider to discuss next steps and share your results with them.

Depression Screening Test

Massachusetts Behavioral Health Help Line (833-773-2445)

The Behavioral Health Help Line is available 24/7, 365 days per year and is available for all residents of Massachusetts. Call or text 833-773-2445. Visit the website to chat online.

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

The 988 Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals in the United States.

National Institute of Mental Health Depression

NIMH offers thorough information on depression causes, symptoms and treatments.

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