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By Paul Gionfriddo; Theresa Nguyen, Senior Director of Policy and Programming; and Nathaniel Counts, Director of Policy


Mental Health America’s campaign for ubiquitous mental health screening picked up more momentum this week, as yet another major national organization recommended widespread mental health screening.

This week’s support comes from the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an expert panel of the US Department of Health and Human Services. The USPSTF amended its depression screening recommendation yesterday and made two important changes. It included recommendation for depression screening for pregnant and postpartum women and removed the caveat that screening for adult depression should only occur if mental health services were in place.

Over the last year, MHA has been reaching out the USPSTF, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Surgeon General and members of Congress to amend the treatment caveat in the depression screening recommendation. While we understand the concerns the USPSTF had in wanting to ensure safety, MHA believed the limitation resulted in a default not to screen for depression at all, even when treatment was available. We would like to send a big thank you to the USPSTF for removing this small but impactful limitation.

Unnecessary Suffering

For too long, we didn’t treat mental illnesses like depression seriously. Oftentimes, we just expected people to resolve problems on their own. Other times, providers were fearful about asking about mental health problems. When providers don’t ask, people are less likely to talk about their mental health problems. As a result, we have put adults and children through needless long periods of pain and suffering, when relief might literally have been right around the corner.

The solution to our growing mental health crisis in America has been staring us in the face for some time. It’s the same solution that we’ve found for many other serious, chronic diseases. It is in earlier identification and intervention, in preventing more serious illnesses from developing, and in promoting recovery before Stage 4.

Screening is a Necessary First Step

Screening improves the chances of getting treatment. Primary care physicians providing usual care miss 30% to 50% of depressed patients and likely fail to recognize a number of common mental health disorders. However, when results from a positive screening are included in the chart, doctors were over 3 times more likely to recognize the symptoms of mental illness and to plan to follow-up with people about their mental health concerns.

Primary care providers are part of the solution. Even if specialized mental health treatment is not readily available, the support of the primary care physician and staff can go a long way in providing support and getting people on a path towards recovery.

If we want to reduce stigma and discrimination, we can start with an open discussion about mental health. It begins at the beginning – when problems first start. It begins with education and screening. And accepting the recommendation of the US Preventive Services Task Force is a very good way to begin.