It seems like every day is a made-up holiday: Boss' Day (October 16), Boyfriend Day (October 3) and Beauticians' Day (June 26). But here's one for a good cause: today is National Depression Screening Day. Following yesterday's Mental Health Awareness Day, 1,000 facilities around the country, and even more overseas, are offering free mental health evaluations today.
Of course, mental health evaluations cannot net you a positive or negative result. There is no blood or urine test. But a screening can raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of depression, and can prompt a potentially life-altering visit to your primary physician.
The "holiday" was founded by Dr. Douglas Jacobs, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard University Medical School, in the 1990s. At the time, he said that depression had been identified by the National Institutes of Mental Health as a widespread but under-diagnosed. "I had this idea that psychiatry should do what our medical colleagues do, to apply principles of health screening to a mental disorder," Jacobs said.
Screenings consist of a brief interview, followed by a talk with a clinician who discusses your "results" and your personal life story with you. The clinician will explain whether your symptoms do, in fact, align with the symptoms of the depression. There will be no treatment, per se, like antidepressants - just information that you can bring to your primary care physician or referrals for area mental health professionals. Screenings can also help differentiate between typical sadness and clinical depression.
At the link, you can find locations that are providing free screenings. They last only 10 minutes and are anonymous. There are also options to screen yourself online, but a clinician who sees you in person may be able to spot visual signs and other context clues.
The public health approach tries to drive home the idea that depression is, in fact, a disease, and it can be treated.