Depression is a strange thing. You don't always know you have it.
Like so many other health ailments, depression can slowly creep up on you. Although it seems like the type of disorder you'd be sure to detect all by yourself, research says it is not.
There are many causes of depression. Losing a job, troubles in a relationship, health issues, the loss of people you love, financial troubles, genetics, and sometimes there's nothing notable or identifiable.
Most healthcare providers are too busy checking your body to assess your mental health. Although Medicare began covering an annual depression screen in October, 2011, other health plans may not pay for routine screening. Either way, it's often overlooked.
There's a quick tool you can take right now to see if you're depressed. It's called the PHQ-9, and the simple questionnaire takes just minutes. Click here to see it. You can analyze the results yourself. And it's exactly the same survey many physicians use to look for potential depression in patients.
The questionnaire works. A 2001 study showed it identified depression and accurately estimated its severity about 90% of the time.
What to do with the results? If you're not "officially" depressed but wondered if you were, you can always ask yourself if there are aspects of your life you'd like to change, manage better, or improve. You can talk with your spouse, trusted friend or partner, or with your healthcare provider to see what may be the trouble. Maybe you need more exercise. You could benefit from a blood test to see if your thyroid is functioning properly or if you're anemic. You may be facing some tough problems and just need more support.
If the quiz says you're depressed, don't despair. But don't ignore it.
Know that you're not alone. Almost 17% of people develop a major depressive disorder sometime during their lifetimes, according to a 2007 national survey.
Studies show depression actually ages you and can contribute to many health problems. A article in the April 9, 2011 Wall Street Journal explained that scientists are discovering that the same changes that occur in chromosomes due to aging are also found in people experiencing depression and major stress. Called "accelerated aging," it's helping experts understand that mental health issues are often physical illnesses with issues like depression surfacing as simply the most obvious symptom.
People with major episodes of depression are at an increased risk at a younger age of hypertension, atherosclerosis, dementia, heart disease, osteoporosis and Type 2 diabetes. Depression can also indirectly speed up the aging process by reducing your interest in exercise, activities, social events, eating and drinking well, and much more.
So, what to do? Talk with your healthcare provider and get a referral. Antidepressants may be an option. Counseling and therapy may be recommended. If you don't have healthcare coverage, there are resources available. If you find you're thinking about hurting yourself, call a friend or your healthcare provider right away, or go to the Emergency Department.
Depression is treatable. But, like to many things in life, first you've got to identify the problem.
Barbara Bronson Gray, RN, MN, is the founder of the blog www.bodboss.com, which is “dedicated to helping people learn to be the CEO of their own body and better guide their own health care.” Besides her hands-on work as both a nurse and supervisor in hospitals, Barbara has written articles that have been published in a number of national magazines and newspapers. Follow her on Twitter: @bbgrayrn.