How are you feeling? Why your primary care doctor may be asking - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

How are you feeling? Why your primary care doctor may be asking about your mental health

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The next time you visit the doctor, you could be asked two new questions related to depression.

Doctors at Sansum Clinic in Lompoc say they're seeing more patients with depression ever since they started asking two new preventative health screening questions: How often are you feeling down, depressed or hopeless? And, have you little interest or pleasure in doing things?

Patients are asked to answer using the following scale:

  • 0=Not at all
  • 1=Several days
  • 2=More than half the days
  • 3=Nearly every day

Doctors are looking to identify people who may be unknowingly or quietly suffering in silence. They say patients are often reluctant to talk about symptoms of depression for fear of being stigmatized or embarrassed.

They say they aren't trying to be invasive, they just want to improve your healthcare.

"With this broad based questionnaire, we're hoping to pick up increased detection of depression so we can intervene," said Richard Onishi, M.D. of the Sansum Clinic. 

Doctors say, since they've never asked these questions so widely before, they are seeing an increase in patients with depression.

"You know, depression affects people in so many ways. I mean, their mortality and morbidity are affected, increased death rates, and I think more importantly, reduce quality of life. There are successful treatments out there, whether that be medication, psychotherapy, exercise, talking to their pastor," Onishi said.

These questions aren't mandatory for doctors to ask but they say they will try to do it annually.

"The more we put that practice into place, the more people can be connected with the services they need," said Suzanne Grimmesey, MFT with the Santa Barbara County Department of Behavioral Wellness.

"The earlier we pick it up, the earlier we can intervene and make a difference," Onishi said.
Grimmesey said nationally, "We know that almost two-thirds of people who go see their primary care doctor go with symptoms related to mental health challenges, whether that being depression anxiety, stress or panic."

Dr. Onishi also says that patients with depression have an increased mortality risk, with the relative risk of death increased by 1.8 times.

Doctors say some cases of suicide may also be linked to depression.

"Forty percent of individuals who have taken their life through suicide visited their primary care physician a month prior," Grimmesey said.

Dr. Onishi said the prevalence of depression in the United States is "pretty high" at 16 percent. 

"If we can catch those patients,  especially those who have been reluctant to talk about it, the more impact we will have," he said.

Unfortunately, national statistics show 70 percent of those who have depression go undetected by their primary physician. Which is why more and more doctors are now asking the questions.  

If in the last two weeks, you have had five or more of the following symptoms, doctors say you should call your health care professional right away:

  • Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Feeling sad, blue or down in the dumps
  • Feeling slowed down and having no energy or feeling restless and unable to sit still
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Eating more or less than usual and/or gaining or losing weight
  • Not being able to sleep or sleeping too much
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Related links:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Depression Overview

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