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October National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month: Check Yourself Out

October is National Depression Awareness and Mental Health Screening Month. October is the beginning of the holiday season. Soon, the cusp of a stressful holiday season and winter will be upon us. The diminished sunlight can lead to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), causing depression for many. 

This observance brings attention to a common condition - depression - and the need for accessible and affordable mental health screenings. 

Often, several different factors can come into play with depression, including a mix of environmental, genetic, psychological, and biological /biochemical components. Not everyone experiences depression in the same way, but it can affect anyone at any time. 

So, it is essential to take that next step and seek out professional help to be screened if you feel you may be depressed; or if someone you care about is feeling depressed. 

Depression is a highly treatable condition with many different options available, but you should seek a professional to help determine the best course of action. This kind of treatment could include medication, psychotherapy, or both, for any individual suffering from it. 

Stats and Facts 

Depression affects 322 million people globally, and in the U.S., over 15 million adults experience depression each year. Additionally, many cases of depression go unreported. 

In the extreme, depression can lead to suicide, the 12th leading cause of death in the United States. In 2020, 45,979 Americans died by suicide and an additional estimated 1.2 million suicide attempts. 

As a result of the COVID pandemic, more than 42% of people surveyed by the US Census Bureau in December 2020 reported symptoms of anxiety or depression in December. This represents an increase from the 11% reported in 2019, before the pandemic. 

Symptoms of Depression 

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood 
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism 
  • Feelings of irritability, frustration‚ or restlessness 
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness 
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies or activities 
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, or being “slowed down” 
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions 
  • Difficulty sleeping, early morning awakening, or oversleeping 
  • Changes in appetite or unplanned weight changes 
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause that do not ease even with treatment 
  • Suicide attempts or thoughts of death or suicide 

How to Combat Depression 

  • Get screened for depression if you feel like you're suffering 
  • If you have suicidal thoughts, call the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline immediately at 988, available 24/7. 
  • Open up - The sooner you seek treatment - talk therapy and/or medications - the better your outlook. 
  • Sleep well - Consult your physician about treating problems such as insomnia or sleep apnea to help ease symptoms. 
  • Call in - Try therapy by phone or videoconference when you can’t meet in person. 
  • Eat well - A quality diet rich in veggies, fruits, whole grains, and fish may help fight depression. 
  • Monitor your mood - Download the WhatsMyM3 or a similar app, or track your mood on a calendar. 
  • Find a resource - For example, visit WebMD’s Depression Center for information and the latest news. 

How to Combat SAD 

SAD, a type of depression, affects an estimated 10 million Americans, with women four times more likely to be diagnosed with it than men. There are some specific ways to manage SAD. 

  • Use a SAD light – Studies show that sitting in front of this special light source, especially in the morning, can help reset your biological clock and cause your brain to release mood-enhancing chemicals. People with SAD have higher levels of melatonin, the brain chemical that induces sleep. Light therapy is helpful for SAD because full-spectrum lighting regulates the production of melatonin. Melatonin regulates daily patterns 
  • Spend time outside – Even if it is very cold, bundle up and spend 10 to 15 minutes outside. Even on cloudy days, the effects of daylight still help. 
  • Eat a well-balanced diet – One that includes an increase in mood-improving nutrients and vitamins. 
  • Take a vitamin D supplement – There is evidence that shows that low levels of the sunshine vitamin are linked to increased depressive symptoms. The active hormone in vitamin D, calcitriol, affects several mood-controlling factors in the body. 
  • Exercise regularly – three times per week for at least 30 minutes. 
  • Stay connected with family and friends. 

Screening Tools for Depression and SAD 

If you feel like you're suffering from depression or SAD, seek help from your healthcare provider, who will likely conduct one of these depression screenings: 

The Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) is widely used to screen for depression and to measure behavioral manifestations and severity of depression. The BDI can be used for ages 13 to 80. The inventory contains 21 self-report items individuals complete using multiple-choice response formats.

The Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) was designed for use in the general population and is now used as a screener for depression in primary care settings. It includes 20 self-report items, scored on a 4-point scale, which measures major dimensions of depression experienced in the past week. The CES-D can be used for children as young as 6 and through older adulthood. It has been tested across gender and cultural populations and maintains consistent validity and reliability. The scale takes about 20 minutes to administer, including scoring.

Seasonal Pattern Assessment Questionnaire (SPAQ) 

This screening tool was developed in 1984 and is still a widely used tool to screen for seasonal affective disorder. It is self-administered and is freely available to the public. 

For more depression screening tools, visit 

If you are depressed, the statistics show you are not alone, and hopefully, these tips and resources will help curb your depression. 

Research and materials for this article were compiled, written, and distributed on behalf of the National Public Health Information Coalition. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the various authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Public Health Information Coalition or its members. 


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