Screening for Depression

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Doctors say they tend to see more depression this time of year, after the holidays, particularly in January and February.  But one doctor at Geisinger also calls depression under-diagnosed, and he's doing something to counteract that.

The hustle and bustle of the holidays is over, and what can feel like a long, cold winter is staring us head-on.  It's prime season for depression, according to Dr. Mike Kovalick, a family physician at Geisinger's Dallas Clinic in Luzerne County.

"(In the) winter months when there's less light, it's a darker period, it's colder, not as much activity, people are stuck in the house more, not as much sunlight," said Dr. Kovalick.

He wanted us to try out something he now does for every patient he sees, strongly suggested but not mandatory.  It's a nationally-recognized patient health questionnaire, a series of questions patients answer alone, on a touch screen computer, while they're waiting for the doctor.

"We feel that depression is under-diagnosed.  We saw how well it worked for the 65 and older population, and we wanted to see if we could help people at a younger age," noted Dr. Kovalick.

How a patient answers goes into a chart, which allows doctors to see if they're at risk for depression, or if they need more immediate help.  How depression is treated depends on the patient, and the severity.  Counseling is one option, mediation another.  Doctors say exercise helps stimulate the body's natural endorphins.  And often just getting out among other people helps, even if it's a walk around the block or at the mall.

"We're so focused on treating diabetes, treating hypertension, making sure they're getting a mammogram or a colonoscopy, that sometimes we miss the emotional aspect," said Dr. Kovalick.