Screening for Depression

Shrouded in stigma and silence, depression is a serious public health issue. Ignoring or overlooking depression deepens the stigma around mental illness and leads to social isolation for those living with behavioral health concerns. But screening processes identifying the disorder are relatively simple – and highly effective.

New guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released last month recommend standard health care visits include depression screenings for all adults. In addition, the guidelines request providers offer sufficient diagnostic and treatment measures for patients identified through screenings.

According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, the guidelines come with good reason: Almost 7 percent of U.S. adults undergo a depressive period each year, including feelings of persistent sadness or hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, problems sleeping and loss of interest in formerly enjoyable activities. Depression can also sometimes manifest through physical symptoms, such as headaches and backaches. There are some risk factors for depression, but the disease can occur without an obvious trigger, making everyday tasks difficult and sometimes prompting harmful thoughts or even suicide.

ACHP and our members are committed to learning and implementing best health care practices for depression, which include use in preventive and primary care settings. With as many as 70 percent of primary care visits involving concerns related to depression or other behavioral health concerns, many of our member plans have successfully instituted evidence-based treatment guidelines, including behavioral health screenings, follow-up, treatment and care-coordination.

A post on The Hill’s Congress Blog by Karen Lloyd, Ph.D., senior director of behavioral health and resilience for HealthPartners, and James Schuster, M.D., vice president for behavioral integration of the UPMC Insurance Division and chief medical officer for Community Care Behavioral Health Organization of Pittsburgh, confirms this sentiment and emphasizes several depression screening programs currently in place by ACHP member plans.

UPMC Health Plan, Community Care Behavioral Health Organization, Priority Health, Scott & White Health Plan and HealthPartners provide Patient Health Questionnaire, or PHQ testing at primary care visits to screen patients for mental health issues. Providers then work with physicians and patients to determine suitable treatment procedures, including devising depression coaching programs or referring patients to specialized treatment providers such as care managers, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists.

Treating depression begins with something as simple and straightforward as an honest conversation. And although depression is pervasive, proper screenings, treatment and follow up can slow its progression and alleviate its symptoms. By providing comprehensive and compassionate care, ACHP and our members are working to support those living with depression and their loved ones.


-Zoya Haroon