Breaking Sad: Meramec hosts depression screening

Posted on 08 October 2014 by admin

Counselors hope to drive out the stigma of depression




Staff Writer

On Oct. 9, 2014, STLCC-Meramec’s Counseling Department will be hosting National Depression Screening Day in the Business Administration building, room 105. Students can drop by at any time throughout the day and fill out a short questionnaire that will be calculated and reviewed by a counselor. 32-year Meramec counselor Hope Steiner is the person who brought the screening to Meramec around 18 years ago.

“I felt strongly at the time that we could try to get on board,” Steiner said.

It was the second year that the National Depression Screening Day was offered, and Steiner wanted Meramec to be a part of it.

“We made sure that we had a counseling staff that was well-educated, and we would also make it very clear that this was just a best guesstimate,” Steiner said.

The year that Meramec first offered a depression screening, Steiner noticed the counselors were seeing a lot of students with depression and wanted to do something about it.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), an estimated 25 million people will be diagnosed with a form of depression just this year. With more research, dealing with depression can be easier to manage because of newer ways to cope with it have come out said Psychology professor Dr. Sophia Pierroutsakos.

“I think we’re more aware, and we have more ways for people to learn about it,”  Pierroutsakos said.

While she said she agrees more people are learning about it, there still is a negative stigma attached to depression.

“You can see a physical illness, but you cannot see a mental illness, and people literally do not understand it,” Psychology professor Dr. Vicki Ritts said.

Both professors said reasons why people are embarrassed to admit they have depression is because people cannot see the illness.

“You can see the treatment of cancer as somebody loses their hair,” Ritts said.

Both professors also agree that a lot of people think that if they are just “strong enough” they can overcome the depression.

“It’s like saying, ‘If I’m tougher, I can rid these cancer cells away,’ and it does not work that way,” Ritts said.

Steiner said she likes the idea of offering extra credit to students who stop by the screening.

“Some students can tell their friends they just went for the extra credit, when they really have been feeling down, and nobody will suspect anything,” Steiner said.

Accepting that depression is nothing to be embarrassed about is what Dr. Pierroutsakos said she would like to see in the future.

“I think the field of psychology is newer, and so whenever something is new, it takes a while for people to accept it,” Dr. Pierroutsakos said.

She said  not too long ago, people were putting mentally ill people in asylums and laughing at them. That was well before psychologists knew how to handle depression.

“We’ve spent a lot of years thinking of mental illness as ‘just in your mind’, Dr. Pierroutsakos said, “which means you are not trying hard enough.”

Dr. Pierroutsakos said the same neurons that govern our mental bodies govern our physical bodies. She said our physical and mental beings are intertwined. There are both things people can and cannot control on both sides.

“One we cannot control is our genetic predisposition,” Pierroutsakos said.

A genetic disposition that leans toward the depression side would be a person that is born without genes that are not giving a person the best chemical regulation., Pierroutsakos said.

“If we are going to think about depression as a weakness, who would want to admit that?” Pierroutsakos said.

Early treatment is important in the treatment of depression. The longer someone goes without treatment, the longer that their brain gets used to those depressive thoughts, she said.

“Many people think this is how they will think for the rest of their life, and that is not the case,” Steiner said.

DEPRESSION12She said there are a variety of ways to get help for depression.

“Early acknowledgment and early treatment are important because whatever we do, our brains get better at, and that is not something you want to get really good at,” Pierroutsakos said.

She said to acknowledge the predispositions, educate yourself to ask for help and practice and do things that will make a person better early on.

“The screening should not take more than 20 minutes,” Steiner said.

Once a person enters the door, a greeter will hand that person a number and a short front and back questionnaire filled with questions about that person’s emotions, behaviors and moods. Once the standardized, nationally used questionnaire is filled out, it is given back to the greeter. A counselor grabs the questionnaire and calculates it before calling the person back for the review of the assessment.

“It actually screens for four different mental health issues,” Steiner said.

Not only is depression looked at, but generalized anxiety, Bipolar and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are also checked. Once the counselor scores the assessment, the student is called back and is told the results of the assessment to them. Meramec will have emergency backup standbys, typically with St. John’s Mercy for extreme cases. If they fear that one of the disorders stands out, they are prepared with lists and handouts.

“We can give you agencies, private practitioners and more,” Steiner said.

If a student has no insurance, they are prepared for that as well.

“I researched a number of places and created a handout of sliding scale agencies,” Steiner said.

Sliding scale agencies are based on financial need. A person can pay anywhere from five to 50 dollars for therapy if they do not have insurance.

“We do not want anybody to slip through the cracks,” Steiner said, “and we are all valuable people, and everybody deserves help.”

While the screening is not designed to do an hour counseling session, an appointment can be made and someone can be seen in a few days. Depression screenings are available all year round, so if it is easier for someone to just visit a counselor alone, that can be made possible.

“We do not want anyone to be embarrassed by visiting the screening,” Steiner said.

Cookies will be offered at the event, which is a way that Steiner said she hopes to let go of the stigma for that day. While this event is called a depression screening, it is not a diagnosis of depression.

“We put together a list of people and agencies where people can get further evaluated and get an accurate diagnosis,” Steiner said.

Steiner said she sees a lot of students every year who go out and get on medication after visiting the screening.

“Depression is 80 percent curable,” Steiner said, “and if you get it identified, then the help can lift your mood, and you can finally focus and be happier.”


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