Duke School of Medicine to offer depression screenings Thursday

Oct. 08, 2013 @ 03:39 PM

“Depression is an illness, not a weakness.”

Dr. Sarah Lisanby, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke’s School of Medicine, wears the mantra on a button pinned to her white coat.

Depression isn’t a glamorous topic, and people back off from seeking care because of the stigma surrounding the illness. But the department on Thursday wants to tear down those feelings of shame, guilt or fear and help students, employees, patients and the general public find answers.

National Depression Screening Day is organized by Screening for Mental Health, Inc., a national effort that promotes the improvement of mental health, and the Duke School of Medicine is taking part.  

More than 300 million people worldwide suffer from some sort of depression, Lisanby said, and depression can compound other health problems, such as strokes and diabetes.

Nearly half of all college students report feeling so depressed at some point that they have trouble functioning, according to Screening for Mental Health. In the U.S., depression affects nearly 3 million men. And women 18 to 45 years old account for the largest proportion of people suffering from depression.

“What’s motivating our work is that we envision a future in which effective treatment for mental health would be integrated into care without stigma,” Lisanby said. “… The most important thing is seeing people get their lives back.”

Screening participants will fill out an anonymous questionnaire, and information about clinical treatments and research at Duke also will be available.

Cynthia D. Jones, a counselor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences who’s been at Duke for 20 years, said this is the third year they’ve held some type of community-wide screening event.

The questionnaires are looking not only for depression symptoms, but also for anxiety and post-traumatic stress. The symptoms could be changes in appetite, sleep or enthusiasm. Jones calls it a person’s “life appetite.”

“It’s a biological symptom; it’s not a personality issue,” Jones said. “It’s one of the ways the body is trying to tell you something’s wrong.

“All of these things are regulated in our nervous system and it’s just like a car. If one thing goes out, the whole car is going to start getting wonky.”

The department also will partner with Duke’s Global Health Institute to commemorate World Mental Health Day, also on Thursday, with a documentary viewing, discussion and reception.

“Hidden Pictures: A Personal Journey into Global Mental Health” follows personal stories in India, South Africa, China, France and the U.S. and explores how families cope in countries where 80 percent of people with mental illness go without treatment.