Experts Offering Free Mental Health Screenings Oct. 5

Onset of fall is prime time for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), they note

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WEDNESDAY, Oct. 4, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- People who are feeling SAD -- seasonal affective disorder -- as fall arrives may benefit from free, anonymous mental-health screenings at hospitals, mental health centers and colleges across the United States this Thursday.

The nonprofit organization Screening for Mental Health is holding the events to mark National Depression Screening Day, Oct. 5.

The group noted that, especially at this time of year, many people begin to develop symptoms of SAD, which is often attributed to the lack of sunlight during the colder months.

In addition, people tend to spend more time in their homes in autumn and winter, resulting in less socialization and increased isolation. This can exacerbate the negative effects of seasonal changes and increase the risk of SAD.

"SAD is a diagnosable mental health disorder that may require treatment. If you or a loved one regularly experiences a significant, lasting downturn of mood when the weather gets colder and daylight lessens, then you should talk to a health professional to discuss your symptoms," Dr. Douglas Jacobs, president and CEO of Screening for Mental Health, and associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said in a prepared statement.

People who attend the free screenings will be asked to complete a brief questionnaire and will have the opportunity to discuss their results with a mental health professional. If deemed necessary, participants will be then referred to local mental health treatment resources.

Symptoms of SAD include:

  • Excessive sleeping or feelings of extreme fatigue.
  • Overeating and weight gain during the fall and/or winter.
  • Inability to maintain regular lifestyle schedule.
  • Depression and irritability.
  • Lack of interest in social interactions and a loss of interest in enjoyable activities.
  • Remission of symptoms as spring and summer arrive.

People with mild cases of SAD can benefit from additional exposure to the sun, such as taking long walks during the daytime or being by a window during the day, experts say. Treatment options for people with more severe cases of SAD include light therapy -- which involves exposure to very bright light (usually a special fluorescent lamp) for a few hours a day -- psychotherapy, and antidepressants.

People who attend the free screenings will also be checked for other mental health problems, including anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, depression, and bipolar disorder.

More information

Here's where you can find a screening site near you.

SOURCE: Screening for Mental Health, Inc., news release, October 2006

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