Major clinical depression is a significant problem in the United States. It is categorized as a pervasive feeling of sadness and hopelessness, loss of interest in formerly loved activities, and change in affect, to name a few symptoms. Other symptoms can include suicidal ideation, excessive guilt, weight loss or gain, sleeping too much or too little, and change in sex drive. While all of these signs and symptoms are not necessarily present in each depressed person, whatever symptoms they do possess must be present for two or more weeks before a diagnosis is generally made.
Major depression is an illness that is not well understood. Thought to be caused by a complex combination of inadequate neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, along with stressful life events or an inability to cope with difficult situations or grief reactions, it is a condition that has come a long way as far as awareness and acceptance in the public eye, but some stigma still remains attached to any psychiatric disorder. This sometimes can cause people who are fearful to seek help lest they be labelled as “crazy” and some believe they may be discriminated against if they are known to have a psychiatric disorder.
Refusal to seek help for clinical depression results in more than just an unhappy life for the sufferer. It causes difficulties in marriages, struggles with parenting, loss of productivity in the workplace, and places the individual at risk for suicide. It can be somewhat difficult to diagnose in some people, as it may have an atypical presentation. In men in more likely to present as anxiety or anger rather than sadness. Some of the characteristics of depression are also shared with other psychiatric disorders, including bipolar disorder depression and personality disorders. It also can occur concurrently with other psychiatric disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or eating disorders.
Fortunately, researchers are forever researching new ways to diagnose and treat depression as it is one of the most common disorders in the world. A survey of twenty questions, known as the BHM-20, is a relatively new way to diagnose patients with depression. It’s recently been utilized by the U.S. military, and the doctor behind the test says it could potentially help commercial pilots too, who are a group of individuals much more likely to suffer from depression, though the reason for this is unclear. One of the questions that is asked is “Are you satisfied with your life?” If you are able to respond immediately that you are, it is likely you are not depressed, according to research. The Germanwings crash has brought new interest and concern about depression, says researcher Dr. Stephen Mark Kopta.
“I believe the BHM-20 is an excellent tool for mental health screening and could alert pilots and their supervisors to significant psychological problems. This could provide an opportunity to avoid a human tragedy.”
But pilots aren’t the only ones who can benefit – everyone else can, too. The test has been used diagnostically for the last eight years in college counseling systems across the country, assessing about 73,000 people, according to Kopta, and last year, the Department of Defense paid $215,000 for the software. The number of subjects alone are indicative of a robust study with high reliability. Soldiers are five times more likely to suffer depression than are civilians, which is why the Department of Defense was interested in the screening tool.
Not only can the twenty questions can be used to assess depression, it can be used to evaluate and monitor the success of any treatment, which may include antidepressants and cognitive and/or “talk therapy.” Since the average amount of time a physician spends with a patient continues to diminish, it is important to have a quick tool that can screen people for depression and if it is found, successfully treat it.