By: Brent P. Forester, MD, MSc

Tags: coordinated care

At Partners HealthCare, we’ve made it a priority to integrate behavioral health care into our primary care practices, particularly through population health management programs. In this post, Dr. Brent Forester, who heads up these efforts, explains the important role of screening primary care patients for mental health conditions – a topic also covered in today’s Boston Globe, which discusses our screening process at MGH Chelsea HealthCare Center.

An estimated 7 percent of American adults suffer from depression every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Last week, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that primary care physicians screen all adult patients, including pregnant women and new moms, for depression, and that's good news for improving quality of care and quality of life for individuals and their families while also helping to contain health care costs.

What Is Depression?

  • Everyone occasionally feels blue or sad, but generally these feelings pass within a few days. When someone has depression, these feelings persist and interfere with daily life.
  • An estimated 7 percent of American adults suffer from depression every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
  • Depression is the top cause of disability among adults in high-income countries, increases the risk of death and decreases the quality of life for patients and their family members.

Why Are These Recommendations Important?

  • People can learn to manage their symptoms well and lead a healthy, productive life.
  • If left untreated, depression can worsen and lead to a wide range of mental, emotional, and physical issues that not only impact the individual and their family but also have implications at work and within their community.

Furthermore, untreated mental health illnesses contribute to skyrocketing health care costs, due to poor control of common medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, that leads to further physical disability and costly medical care. The country is now seeing a shift toward population health management—a strategy that is part of the Affordable Care Act—designed to help contain costs by implementing comprehensive measures to treat and diagnose patients early.

These depression screening recommendations are a move in a positive direction by recognizing treatable psychiatric illnesses when they occur in the context of patients' medical problems. Screening and diagnosis is, however, not enough. We must also make sure that patients then receive adequate treatment for depression. Pairing screening with treatment will accomplish the two connected goals of providing higher-quality health care for the patient and better managing costs for that individual and the entire healthcare system.

If you think you may have depression, I strongly encourage you to talk to your primary care physician. To help you get the conversation started, you can take this anonymous and confidential depression screening and print out the results for your physician.

A version of this post was originally published on McLean Hospital’s Advances in Mental Health blog.