Are you depressed? You’re not alone, especially at this time of year, when Seasonal Reactive Disorder (SRD) is common. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 40 million people suffer from just anxiety, not including those suffering from both anxiety and depression; that makes anxiety the most common illness in the US. The Journal of the American Medical Association reports depression is “the leading cause of disability in persons 15 years or older.” Think about what that means for our daily lives, our businesses, our families and ourselves; the impact is huge.

Because anxiety and depression are so prevalent, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has issued new recommendations that will bring earlier and more frequent screenings for depression from your family physician. What does that mean for you?

What are some of the symptoms of depression and/or anxiety? They can range from subtle (tired all the time, unable to concentrate, feeling “flat”) to severe (homicidal or suicidal thoughts or actions, unwillingness to associate with others, can’t get out of bed at all, no interest in anything around you). Because those thoughts and feelings can also mimic physical disease, and because anxiety and depression can result from or cause physical problems. it makes sense that the first person you’re going to talk to is your family physician. And, it’s important to make an appointment with your family doctor if you’re feeling any of these changes for more than a few days.

The new recommendations will mean every family doctor needs to screen every patient for anxiety and depression. The screening most often takes the form of a written questionnaire you would fill out while waiting to see your doctor. The questions include a wide range of areas of your life that will give your doctor a clearer picture of what’s going on, when taken all together. It might feel as if some of the questions are repetitive because they have similar wording, but your answers will provide an overall look into whether or not you need help – often times even before you realize it. Increased screenings can mean your doctor is better able to get you the help you need earlier, whether it’s counseling, medications or other treatments as they become available, often without needing to see a licensed psychiatrist.

A second group of people were specifically called out as needing increased screening and help – pregnant and post-partum women. Because hormones play an important role in anxiety and depression, and because pregnant women and those who have just given birth have large hormone swings, these women can experience severe depression that can go unrecognized or is often written off as “just the baby blues.”

Dr. Michael E. Thase, psychiatry professor at University of Pennsylvania and the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Philadelphia, said in an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), “These recommendations are taking something that is good and making it even better.” He acknowledges, though, “Although progress has been made, there is still much work to be done.”

In the meantime, here are some tips for helping yourself from and WebMD:

  • Remember you are not responsible for feeling this way; there can be a medical reason behind it
  • Write down your thoughts so you can see what makes you feel better and what makes it worse
  • Stay away from alcohol and drugs. Self-medicating only takes the problem away until you sober up and can actually make your depression worse
  • Take some time off and do something you would enjoy at other times. You might not feel particularly motivated to do things, but make yourself do one thing you really enjoy
  • Go outside. Walk around the block, around the back yard, or just sit on your front porch and take in the sun. Breathe deeply, exhaling slowly, and clear your mind; you might be surprised.
  • Talk to someone. There’s no need to be embarrassed about feeling depressed or anxious; you might feel you’re bothering friends or family, but there are help lines available in every city where you can call and talk about what’s going on.
  • While you’re in the middle of it, just set small goals. Take things one step at a time; reaching those small goals will help you see some progress.
  • Sleep
  • Drink lots of water
  • Do something nice for yourself. Pamper yourself, even if it’s just getting a manicure or buying that obscenely expensive cup of coffee.
  • Get help. Seriously. Don’t go through this alone. Get to the closest medical clinic, if you don’t have a family doctor, or make an appointment as quickly as possible, especially if you start thinking about hurting yourself.

One last thing – whether you suffer from anxiety or depression yourself, someone near you more than likely does. Look out for your neighbors, friends and family, especially if they’ve just had a baby or are pregnant, or if they’re going through illness, job change or economic hardship. If you notice changes in their mood, their willingness to get outside their house or that their behavior has changed, suggest they get to the doctor. If they won’t make an appointment themselves, call the nearest mental health hotline and they can arrange for help.

No one has to go through anxiety and depression alone. These new guidelines should help make sure everyone gets the treatment they need, when they need it.