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NIH Record

Employees Offered Depression Screening

By Sophia Glezos Voit

Depressive illnesses, which affect more than 19 million adults in the United States, can have a devastating effect on individuals and their family members — a fact that led NIMH and the quality of work life (QWL) committee to sponsor the first multi-site NIH employee screening on National Depression Screening Day last fall.

Confirming the importance of such screenings was the first-ever Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health — issued on Dec. 13 — with a key message that "mental health is fundamental to health." This statement, backed by data from thousands of research studies, reflects the fact that untreated mood disorders are not only potentially disabling and reduce quality of life, but can also seriously undermine good health. Depression can lead to bone loss, worsen the symptoms of diabetes and heart disease and contribute to other health problems.

The NIH screening, attended by nearly 90 employees at three NIH sites, sought to help staff members identify symptoms of major depression or bipolar disorder and lead them to sources of help. Both disorders can be effectively treated with medication, certain forms of psychotherapy, or both.

NIH Employee Assistance Program (EAP) professionals, who conducted the anonymous, confidential screening, found that 80 percent of participants met partial or full criteria for major depression (marked by ongoing sad or empty mood) or bipolar disorder (involving swings between depressed mood and euphoric or agitated states). All were directed to organizations providing referrals to mental health treatment specialists.

"We had an excellent turnout for the first multi-site depression screening at NIH," said NIMH director Dr. Steven Hyman. "People are more willing to seek help now than they were even a few years ago, in large part because of research uncovering the biological underpinnings of mood disorders." Americans, he said, "are increasingly recognizing these illnesses as real medical conditions instead of character flaws."

The QWL committee is taking the lead on future mental health screenings, with continued support from NIMH and EAP. Wendy Thompson, QWL committee chairperson, said their decision to sponsor future mental health screenings was based on research that the disorders affecting most Americans are eminently identifiable and treatable.

"Since an unknown percentage of NIH employees suffer from symptoms of treatable mental illnesses, and usually in silence, it only makes sense to continue a program that will enable staff members to benefit from the research mission they contribute to. And, helping them, of course, helps NIH and, ultimately, the health of Americans," Thompson said.

The next screening is scheduled for Wednesday, May 3, 2000, which is National Anxiety Disorders Screening Day. Participants will view a short video on anxiety disorders; complete a screening questionnaire, which includes a depression symptoms checklist since the two conditions often co-occur; and meet briefly with a mental health specialist to discuss screening results. At the screening sites, participants may also collect NIMH materials on the various anxiety disorders and their treatments. No names are asked at the event, so employee records are not affected.

Check the NIH Record in April for schedule and location information of the May 3 event. Or, later that month, go to http://wflc.od.nih.gov/wflc on the WFLC Web site or http://www.nimh.nih.gov/events/index.cfm on the NIMH site.

Information about depressive and anxiety disorders, and other mental illnesses affecting mood, thought, and/or behavior, are also available on the NIMH Web site at http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/index.cfm. To receive materials by mail, call NIMH at 443-4513.

In light of Surgeon General David Satcher's recommendation to "seek help if you have a mental health problem or think you have symptoms of a mental disorder," concerned employees attending future mental health screenings can begin to get the help they need, whether for themselves or a loved one. (The Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health is available at http://www.nimh.nih.gov/mhsgrpt/home.html, with a message from NIMH's Hyman at http://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/sgmessage.cfm. For a free copy of the executive summary, call toll-free 877-9-MHEALTH.)

To find out about joining the QWL mental health screening subcommittee, contact Kathleen Moore, chairperson, at 435-2165 or kmoore@nih.gov.


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