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New Ulm Medical Center

New Ulm Medical Center targets depression

About one in every 10 U.S. adults reports feelings of depression. In fact, major depression is among the nation's leading causes of disability. Luckily, help and treatment are well within reach.

"So many people come in and say they feel like a failure because they couldn't fix their depression on their own," said Tawnya Kreilkamp, MD, a family medicine physician at New Ulm Medical Center. "But depression is linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain ... it's not something you can control by yourself."

Kreilkamp regularly screens her patients for symptoms of depression, especially those who may be at higher risk, such as patients struggling with chronic pain or cancer. She noted that anyone is at risk of developing depression — the mental health condition doesn't discriminate.

"We're becoming more and more aware of this issue at New Ulm and we've acknowledged that there's an opportunity for us to do better at diagnosing and recognizing depression," Kreilkamp said. "There's also a huge opportunity for us to help remove the stigma associated with depression so people can get the help they need."

Overcoming depression

Depression is a serious medical illness that can be diagnosed and treated just like many physical ailments. Among the symptoms of depression are losing interest or pleasure in usually enjoyable activities, as well as feelings of sadness or hopelessness. If such feelings last two weeks or longer, it's probably a good idea to seek out medical help, Kreilkamp advised. And oftentimes, a person's primary care doctor is a good place to start.

"I think awareness about depression is starting to rise and people are becoming more knowledgeable about its symptoms," she said. "I have a lot of patients who come to me specifically with concerns about depression."

At New Ulm Medical Center, Kreilkamp uses a depression screening tool known as PHQ-9, a nine-question Patient Health Questionnaire that helps her detect depression and diagnose its severity. The tool is used among patients ages 12 and older. In addition to inquiring about feeling of sadness and hopelessness, the questionnaire also asks patients their energy levels, sleep habits, appetite, ability to concentrate and whether they are experiencing thoughts of suicide.

The screening tool not only helps diagnose depression, but is an objective way to measure how well treatment is going as well, said Doug Fox, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist at New Ulm Medical Center.

"This tool gives us a way to measure whether our treatment approach is effective or not," Fox said. "If the score starts going down, then we're on the right path; if it's not coming down, we'd want to change our approach."

Oftentimes, Kreilkamp said she can make a depression diagnosis the same day as a patient's initial visit. After diagnosis, she and the patient work together as a team to determine the best course of treatment. Treatment options can include medication, mental health therapy or a combination of both. If a patient is diagnosed with very severe symptoms, he or she may be referred to a psychiatrist for further evaluation.

Fox said a combination of medication and therapy often produces the best outcomes and helps prevent a reoccurrence of depression.

"Clinical depression may not get better on its own," he said. "But it's treatable, so you don't have to continue feeling that way. This is something you can get over."

Kreilkamp said that along with a renewed push to recognize the symptoms of depression, New Ulm Medical Center is also testing out new strategies to check in with patients in between doctor appointments, such as follow-up phone calls with a nurse practitioner. She noted that untreated depression not only takes a mental toll on people, but a physical one too.

"With the right tools, depression can be treated," she said.

Source: New Ulm Medical Center - Health Edition
Reviewed by: Doug Fox, Ph.D. and Tawnya Kreilkamp, MD
First Published: 05/01/2013
Last Reviewed: 05/01/2013