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Depression Screening May Save a Life

Dr. Sharon Hirsch, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, says untreated depression takes a significant personal toll and has a huge economic impact. Credit: Dr. Sharon Hirsch
Dr. Sharon Hirsch, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, says untreated depression takes a significant personal toll and has a huge economic impact. Credit: Dr. Sharon Hirsch
October 7, 2015

MADISON, Wis. - Thursday is National Depression Screening Day, a day to bring awareness of the illness and emphasize that depression can be treated. According to the World Health Organization, 3,000 people a day commit suicide.

People should intervene when they believe a family member or loved one is depressed and not getting treatment, said Dr. Sharon Hirsch, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. If there's any talk of suicide, she said, immediate intervention is critical.

"But if they're just kind of getting along, they're doing OK but they're just not themselves, then you have to help them understand that what's going on is depression," she said. "It is an illness and we can treat it - but you have to find a way to get that person in."

Hirsch said the first call in such a case should be to the person's primary-care doctor, who can then assess the person and refer them to the proper mental-health professional. One of the challenges of her profession, she said, is removing the stigma associated with mental illness, and teaching people that bringing awareness to depression can save lives.

To help people understand that mental illness should be treated like any other illness or injury, Hirsch uses the analogy of a person who falls and breaks an arm or leg.

"If you don't get it casted, it will eventually heal, but not real well, right? And if you get physical therapy to rehab your muscle, it's going to get even stronger and it may get better sooner," she said. "The same thing with depression."

Depression can afflict anyone of any age, including children, Dr. Hirsch's specialty. She says childhood depression is hugely under-diagnosed, and there's a need for about 35-thousand child psychiatrists in the country, and today there are only about 7 thousand.

According to Dr. Hirsch, depression takes a huge toll mentally and financially.

"The cost of treatment is about 26 billion dollars. That pales in comparison to time lost from work due to absenteeism and other kinds of direct work costs - it's about 57 billion dollars lost in the economy due to depression."

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 61.5 million Americans - one in four adults - will experience a mental illness in a given year. More facts and figures are online at nami.org.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI