It’s Mental Health Awareness Month, and this week Health Matters is taking a look at depression.

Depression and other mental illnesses aren’t more common than they were in the past, but they are more commonly diagnosed and treated thanks to an increased emphasis on getting help, said University Medical Center Clinical Psychologist Dr. John Burkhardt.

“I think as part of the human condition is the fact that we do have anxious moments and we do have sad moments,” Burkhardt said.

But there’s a big difference between having a sad moment and being depressed, he said. Clinical depression is considered to be diagnosed after meeting certain criteria in a two-week period.

“Sometimes people go months having symptoms,” Burkhardt said. “It gets to a point where their daily functioning becomes impaired, which is much worse than just being sad.”

We all experience depressive episodes, Burkhardt said, but often people get nervous when they think they may have a problem and don’t get the help they need.

“People with major depression are going to have problems with work, problems personally, if they’re going to school they might have problems with school,” Burkhardt said. “That’s another indicator that there’s something going on that more than just a funk.”

In a lot of cases, people aren’t getting the help they need because they’re afraid of the stigma surrounding mental health care, Burkhardt said.

“The stigma is still so prevalent that even if we know someone who has it, we’re reluctant to discuss it,” Burkhardt said.

Anyone with untreated depression can begin to think about death or dying, Burkhardt said, and don’t feel the need to care for themselves anymore.

But things are getting better, he said. People are much more likely to get help than they were in previous decades.

“I think awareness about just what it is or what you’re looking at actually helps,” Burkhardt said. “And noticing that depression affects so many other medical illnesses, I think, is also bringing awareness.”

If you’re looking for help with depression, start with your primary physician, Burkhardt said. They can help you find the help you need. If you don’t have a primary physician, University Medical Center accepts most major forms of insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid, and has budget plans available for those who qualify.



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