Free depression screenings target mental wellness

By Adrienne Hurst

Physical exams are a no-brainer. But what if we approached our mental health the way we do our blood pressure, with regular, preventative check-ups? Mental health professionals across Chicago and the U.S. are encouraging people to check their noggins for Mental Health Awareness Week.

mental health depression screening
Mental health experts offered free depression screenings Thursday at the James R. Thompson Center.

Cornerstone Counseling Center of Chicago is offering free wellness screenings for depression this Friday at 1111 N. Wells from 1-6 p.m. The event wraps up extended mental health evaluations for National Depression Screening Day. Mental Health America of Illinois (MHAI) brought the event to Chicago with screenings that started Wednesday.

Caryn Curry, MHAI program director, says screening is just one step toward addressing a pervasive epidemic. Depression is “the leading cause of disability worldwide,” according to the World Health Organization.

“It’s not diagnostic, and we want to stress that,” Curry said. “We’ve had folks take the screening who were severely suicidal, and we’ve had to take them to the emergency room in the middle [of the event]. So it’s necessary.”

Advocacy group Screening for Mental Health (SMH) founded National Depression Screening Day in 1991 as an initiative to promote mental health education and access to treatment services nationwide. The group went on to establish National Alcohol Screening Day and a National Eating Disorders Program, scheduled each year in April and February, respectively.

“It’s important to know that these screenings are not telling you that you do or do not have an issue. It’s a piece to the puzzle,” said Michelle Holberg, director of programs for SMH. “We think of screenings as another tool in the toolkit.”

That toolkit includes mental health education and local, quality care options, Holberg said. Less than half of the world’s depressed population receives treatment.

Maggie Bishay, a therapist at Cornerstone Counseling Center of Chicago, said clinicians face serious challenges when diagnosing depressed patients. Disorders of the mind can hide behind illnesses of the body. She screens all of her patients for depression because of the scope of its symptoms.

“We equate [depression] with a lot of physical problems, and it masks itself in all those different ways,” Bishay said. A patient could show symptoms of depression, or “it could be an adjustment, it could be hormonal … hyperthyroidism, diabetes, any of those things.” Further interviews help Bishay pinpoint the issue. If it’s depression, she and her patient discuss an appropriate treatment plan.

At its worst, depression is a deadly disease. WHO estimates that suicide claims 1 million lives each year. National Depression Screening Day exists to identify at-risk individuals and connect them with treatment before they become a statistic.

“People need to be stopping and thinking about their mental health. They need to be learning about it, and we think screenings are a great way to do that,” Holberg said. “We envision a world where mental health is viewed and treated with the same gravity as physical health.”