Why National Depression Screening Day is significant

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated March 5, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Content Warning: Please be advised that the following article mentions suicide and self-harm. Read with discretion. If you are experiencing thoughts or urges of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 to talk to someone over SMS. They are available 24/7 to offer support. 

October is the National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month. National Depression Screening Day occurs on the Thursday of the first complete week of October each year. The day was created in an effort to spread awareness about the impact of depression worldwide, as over 280 million people in the world have depression, according to the World Health Organization

No matter the time of year, getting a depression screening, advocating for mental healthcare and resources, and educating yourself on depression can be valuable ways to learn more, minimize stigma, and reduce the risk of a mental health crisis. 

Depression can be a highly treatable condition

How to recognize National Depression Screening Day

Mental Health America suggests getting a free mental health screening in October to celebrate National Depression Screening Day. Although you may think you are not experiencing depression, some of the symptoms of the condition can be hard to pinpoint, and misconceptions about mental health can cause specific individuals to not reach out for support when it could be advantageous to do so. For example, many men struggle with depression but face stigma around receiving help and could struggle to recognize the symptoms they’re experiencing. 

You can take a quick free screening test on Mental Health America’s website and several other sites. These tests may allow you to know whether you might be showcasing symptoms of depression or another mental illness. Although these results do not replace the medical advice or official screening of a qualified mental health professional or doctor, they can be a sign to reach out for support. They can also constitute a first step in advocating for yourself.

Knowing the symptoms of depression

When celebrating National Depression Screening Day, you may also want to educate yourself on the symptoms of major depression and other depressive disorders. Common depressive symptoms can include: 

  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Weight gain, loss, or changes
  • Sleep changes, such as sleeping notably more or less than usual 
  • Persistent sad mood or feelings of hopelessness
  • Substance misuse
  • Too much or reduced appetite
  • Decreased interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Loss of hope for the future 
  • Struggling to care for oneself

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources. Support is available 24/7.

If you believe you may be experiencing depression, reach out to a mental health provider for a professional diagnosis and further support. 

Why depression screening is essential

There are many reasons why screening for depression can be essential. Anyone can take a depression screening test, and doctors may screen for depression and anxiety at regular check-ups, or you can request one during your next visit. When taking a screening test, respond honestly and accurately for the best results. 

Suicide prevention 

Depression screenings can be a tool in suicide prevention care. Major depressive disorder carries a risk of suicidal thoughts, so recognizing symptoms of depression before suicidal thoughts potentially develop can help providers, individuals, and parents understand if there could be a risk. Although not everyone with depression experiences suicidal ideation, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found that 75% of adults who attempt suicide show signs that they might beforehand. Common signs of suicidality may include depressive symptoms, such as (but not limited to) a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities and isolating oneself from loved ones. 

Suppose an individual takes a depression screening and receives a result that indicates a high likelihood of depression. In that case, they may be able to reach out to a mental health provider or doctor to implement a treatment plan. A recent study showed that patients who received safety planning and intervention after a suicide-related crisis were more likely to attend therapy and reach out for support than those who did not. They also experienced a reduction in future suicidal behaviors and thoughts. 

The study shows that outlining a treatment plan could reduce the likelihood of crisis in both those who haven’t had a suicide attempt in the past and those who have. Taking a depression screening can be the first step toward this, and the availability of free depression screenings for all communities can help mental health services and providers treat more individuals. 

If you are experiencing thoughts or urges of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 to talk to someone over SMS. They are available 24/7 to offer support.

Getty/AnnaStills

Early treatment

Depression screenings can help people find early treatment for their symptoms instead of waiting until they have experienced a life-threatening or severe symptom. Symptoms of early depression may be minor or unrecognizable for many. A screening could indicate whether it may be beneficial to reach out to a mental health provider for further testing or treatment.  

If a person can reach out for support before depression worsens, they might also gain coping skills, start medication, or develop a treatment plan to feel more confident in their ability to handle their symptoms if they arise again or worsen.  

Personal understanding

Depression screenings could also help individuals understand themselves on a more profound level. If someone is experiencing distressing symptoms that they do not understand related to depression, they might not reach out for help or realize there’s a name for their mental health challenges if they do not know about depression. 

A personal understanding of mental health can also increase worldwide and community-wide understanding of mental health, which could destigmatize conditions and symptoms on a more significant level. 

Proper medical care

If a person takes a depression screening and finds they might be experiencing symptoms, they can reach out for care related to their condition immediately instead of going through many separate appointments. For instance, someone experiencing the physical symptoms of depression could believe their symptoms are part of a physical illness and might see several doctors and specialists before finding out they have depression. 

When patients get their depression screening results, they can immediately reach out to a mental health provider for further screening. If the provider believes they might benefit from talking to a medical doctor, they can do so after the appointment. For many, early understanding can reduce the cost of medical care. 

Avoiding misdiagnosis

Finally, depression screenings may help individuals avoid a misdiagnosis. Although depression symptoms can occur in several mental health conditions, many of them are unique to depression. If someone scores high on a depression test, they can take other screening tests as well and bring their results to a consultation with a therapist, psychiatrist, or medical professional. 

Without depression screenings, someone may seek care but be unsure where to focus their attention. They could be misdiagnosed with related conditions or other mental health disorders. Doctors might use depression screenings to narrow down the possibilities when diagnosing someone. 

How are depression screenings done?

Depression screenings are generally short-form multiple-choice quizzes that ask about your symptoms within the past two weeks. You might see questions like: 

  • How many days have you felt little pleasure in previously enjoyed activities? 
  • How many days have you felt down, low on energy, or tired? 
  • How many days have you considered suicide? 
  • How many days did you have trouble falling asleep or felt you slept too much? 

The questions on each screening can vary. Ensure you take a screening test with your primary care physician, a licensed therapist, or an online accredited organization or non-profit recognized within the mental health sphere. 

After your test, a high score may indicate a high risk of depression, whereas a low score may indicate no depression or to follow up at a different time. Talk to your doctor about what your results could mean for you. 

A person in a green long-sleeve T-shirt sits at a desk facing a window and attends a webinar for addressing depression.
Getty/Morsa Images
Depression can be a highly treatable condition

Talk to a counselor for depression 

If you have taken a screening and tested with a moderate or high indication of depression, you might benefit from talking to a counselor. Additionally, if you have already been diagnosed with depression or another mental health condition, therapy can be a rewarding option. Therapists will consider your symptom history, discuss treatment possibilities, and ask about your treatment goals. 

For those who feel uncomfortable meeting with a counselor in person, lack time or transportation, or who struggle to get out of bed or leave home, you can also find licensed therapists online. Online therapy allows you to choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions with a counselor. You can also find worksheets, mental health webinars, and journaling prompts on some platforms, such as BetterHelp, which offers over 23,000 licensed counselors. 

Studies show that certain types of online therapy can be especially effective in treating depression and related conditions, like mindfulness-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). If you’re unsure which type of therapy to pursue, your therapist can also discuss standard treatment methods and studies to help you decide. 

Takeaway 

National Depression Screening Day focuses on raising awareness of depression screening resources, and advocates for screening for all individuals, regardless of age, gender, race, or background. A screening test can help people learn more about their mental health and when to reach out for support. Although not everyone who takes the test may have depression, taking a screening every few months or each year can help you stay on top of your mental healthcare. 

If you’re unsure whether you have depression, have received a high test result on a depression screening, or have previously been diagnosed with depression, know that you’re not alone. Consider reaching out to a licensed therapist for further guidance and support. 

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