Doctors Failing to Diagnose Depression

Posted on April 18th, 2013
Posted in Depression

Experts estimate that nearly one-quarter of the people who suffer from major depression are never diagnosed. Less than 50 percent of those with major depression get treatment to manage their symptoms. The symptoms of depression can fool even the patients who come in to see a doctor with other ailments. Some people don’t realize they are suffering from depression and may not mention any of those symptoms. Unless a doctor is asking about depression symptoms or screening for them, chances are high that those symptoms are being overlooked.

Missing puzzle pieces

Some patients come to a doctor believing they have one illness that they cannot seem to manage. They may withhold some symptoms intentionally (because of embarrassment) or unintentionally. Without all of the pieces, the puzzle of their illness can never be fully understood and treated.

Researchers studied 90 patients who were seen at community health centers. Physicians at these centers are tasked with looking at all aspects of a person’s health in order to diagnose their illnesses. And, for many doctors at community health centers, they may have no history or records of the people, many of whom are first-time patients.

Researcher Ann H. Maradiegue of the School of Nursing and College of Health and Human Services at George Mason University in Virginia noticed that nearly half of the community health center patients in the study had signs of depression but were not diagnosed. Only tests to measure ailments such as high cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar were administered.

Help in diagnosis and treatment

Many patients don’t realize they are experiencing symptoms of depression. They describe themselves as “moody”  and think that the way they are feeling is just part of their nature. Another study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, revealed that many of those who suffer from depression do not realize for years that they have a problem.

In the journal, Ronald M. Epstein, professor of family medicine and psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center, offered recommendations about how physicians can help their patients reveal whether they have symptoms of depression.

Epstein stated that physicians should always guide their patients in explaining all of their ailments, both mental and physical. They should not rely on the patient to mention symptoms of depression. They may conduct specific screening for depression, but they should also look at specific situations in that person’s life that may be producing ailments other than the obvious ones the patient is mentioning.

Physicians should help patients find explanations for what might be causing their depression. Finding the root cause will help their overall health and reduce some physical ailments.

Offering comfort and hope

Once a patient has been diagnosed, it is important that they believe they can improve. It will encourage them to continue sharing their symptoms with their doctor and family and friends.

Doctors can provide comfort in multiple ways. They can emphasize the manifestation of depression and let them know that depression is often hereditary and not any fault of their own. Most importantly, doctors should let patients know that depression is treatable and manageable, and that treating the depression will help them feel better both mentally and physically.

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