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Experts Say You Should Be Screened for Depression Annually

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Considering the fact that an estimated seven percent of adults suffer from depression every year—that's 15.7 million people, according to the National Institute of Mental Health—it seems only natural that screening for mental health be as standard as getting your blood pressure or cholesterol checked, right?

Well, it's not. But thanks to new recommendations released today, we're one step closer. An expert panel of doctors has announced that all adults should be screened for depression at least once a year by their primary care doctors, in light of the overall benefits. (For more, see Your Brain On: Depression.)

The new guidelines, updated for the first time since 2009 and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, come from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force—an independent volunteer panel of primary care doctors that makes prevention-based medical recommendations. The panel previously advised that adults should be screened for depression when mental health services were available, a limitation the panel says is no longer needed now that screening services are more widely available and accepted as a part of mental health care. Better yet, the panel gave its recommendation a "B" grading, which means depression screening must be covered under the Affordable Care Act.

The panel also recommended for the first time that women be screened for depression during pregnancy and after giving birth. This comes in response to new evidence that maternal mental illness is more common than previously thought and can actually start during pregnancy, the panel says. (More on that—and why it matters—plus, 6 Subtle Signs of Postpartum Depression.)

The statement from the USPSTP notes that major depressive disorder is a common and significant health care problem: In the U.S., an estimated $22.8 billion was spent on depression treatment in 2009, and it is the leading cause of disability. It's also associated with increased risk of death due to suicide. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more people die now from suicide in the U.S. (and 90 percent of those deaths are related to mental illness) than car accidents. Not to mention, depression has a major effect on quality of life for both the patient and their family members, especially children, the panel said. (Also in this week: Research found that eating more fat might reduce your risk of suicidal tendencies.)

The USPSTP explained in their report that while there is essentially no risk from screening, there's plenty of evidence that they can do a whole lot of good. They found that programs combining depression screening with adequate support systems in place lead to the reduction or remission of depression symptoms, and that adults with depression (identified through screening in primary care settings) who are being treated with antidepressants and/or psychotherapy have a decreased risk of death. So while it can't hurt, it certainly can help.

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