Up to 26 percent of Americans will be clinically depressed at some point during their lifetimes. When you throw other mental disorders into the mix, including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder, the number skyrockets to about 50 percent.
“The number of people who are diagnosed with depression is climbing,” says Joshua Smith, M.D., a family medicine doctor at Henry Ford Health. “People, especially among the younger generations, seem to be more willing to discuss feelings of depression and more doctors are trained to diagnose and treat mental disorders.”
Doctors today are better equipped to address feelings of depression and help patients feel whole again. Depression is not a sign of vulnerability or weakness. It’s a common health condition that affects people of all ages and circumstances, and it can have serious consequences.
The good news: Getting help can often be as easy as seeing your primary care physician (PCP). You might not feel the need to find a psychiatrist or mental health professional. Here’s why:
- All PCPs deal with depression. “Primary care providers are accustomed to being the first line of defense against depression,” Smith says. “PCPs have different levels of comfort with different mental health disorders, but they all treat major depression. If your situation is more complex, your PCP will refer you to a psychiatrist.”
- Your PCP knows your history. You may feel more comfortable confiding in your PCP (versus a new mental health provider) if you have a long-standing relationship with him or her. “The fact that your PCP has likely seen you more often provides a certain level of comfort for both parties,” Smith says. “You may be more likely to share thoughts and feelings with someone who has known you for a long time instead of with someone who is essentially a stranger.” PCPs have the added benefit of knowing your medical history, including conditions like substance abuse, heart disease and diabetes that can co-exist with depression.
- Your PCP is familiar with medications and drug interactions. Your PCP knows which medications you’re taking and which drugs may contribute to feelings of depression. Certain medications — both prescription and over-the-counter — can even cause depression. Alcohol, illicit drugs and even ill-timed caffeine can also contribute.
- PCPs often know your family dynamics. PCPs frequently understand the family dynamic better than a new physician can. Because depression affects everyone in the family, this can be a real advantage, Smith says. “There’s usually a complex mix of emotions with multiple players involved, and a PCP may be better equipped to intervene in those situations.”
- PCPs have an arsenal of tools. If your PCP isn’t equipped to address your problems, they have other tools at their disposal. In addition to suggesting lifestyle strategies and linking you with support groups — both online and in person — PCPs can connect you to psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health experts who have special expertise in the issues you’re facing.
Unfortunately, many people don’t report feeling depressed and some don’t realize help is available. And while younger generations may be more willing to address feelings of depression — and seek help — than older generations, there’s still a lot of stigma and misunderstanding surrounding depression.
“Anyone can have a few bad weeks – especially in response to a loss or setback – but if feelings of depression persist for a month or more, seek help,” Smith says. “Most important, if you have persistent thoughts of self-harm, or have had thoughts about ending your life, get help.”
You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, 24 hours a day seven days a week.