Utah mental health experts look at when to seek help, treatments for depression

Experts from the Huntsman Institute of Mental Health discussed when to seek help for depression Wednesday and what options are available. (Steve Griffin, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — More than a third of Americans suffer from depression, and while Utah’s rate is similar to the rest of the country, the state’s suicide rate is higher, said Dr. Jeremy Kendrick, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah. .

“I think normalizing (depression) and understanding it for what it is and getting treatment … is really important,” he said during a panel discussion hosted by the Huntsman Institute of Mental Health on Wednesday.

Concern about the high suicide rate among Utahns between the ages of 15 and 24 has helped spur more state funding to address the problem, said Dr. Rachel Wier, associate professor of psychology at the Huntsman Institute of Mental Health. There is now a child psychology hotline available five days a week to help primary care providers with mental health questions.

She said it has already improved Utah’s ranking in terms of access to care.

When should someone get help?

Jamie Hales, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in treating women and couples during pregnancy and postpartum, said when the problem isn’t getting better and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel, it’s time to seek help.

She said many people, especially new mothers, deal with the stigma surrounding mental health and don’t want to talk about their struggles. But not asking for help puts them at higher risk. She said there’s a lot of pressure in new parenthood to get everything right.

Hales said that in the first year after giving birth, the highest risk of death for a mother comes from suicide and overdose.

“It’s always better to say something than just suffer in silence,” she said.

Starting with your primary care doctor is a good idea, Wier said, adding that early treatment for depression can be critical and can make you less likely to develop chronic illnesses or related medical conditions.

“The sooner you can identify yourself or have someone identify you and … get treatment, the better your outcome will be,” Wier said.

She said the University of Utah is working to improve screening efforts, help patients follow up with clinicians and integrate mental health services into their primary care clinics. Although the shortage of mental health providers is expected to become more severe, she said they are working to train more mental health clinicians and looking for solutions.

Treatment of depression

Often, people go through times when they are more sad or depressed, and there may be seasonal periods of depression or sadness due to grief, but when these problems are combined with an inability to function, it’s time to get professional treatment, Kendrick said.

“You can literally do everything perfectly in your life that you’re supposed to do and still suffer from this disease,” he said.

Kendrick said depression can be influenced by many different things, such as biology and trauma, and identifying these factors is important to finding effective treatment. Except in severe cases, the first step is therapeutic intervention and problem solving in the family system.

While medication can be helpful, he said it’s not a “magic pill” and treatment should always be considered, weighing the risks and potential benefits.

The drugs come with the risk of side effects, but Kendrick said that sometimes the risk to the brain from continued depression is worse than the possible negative effects of the drugs.

He said it’s important for treatment providers to track the problems that led a person to seek help and see if treatment leads to improvement.

“It’s really important to have an objective approach to measure how well we’re doing,” he said.

Kendrick said about 30 percent of patients respond well to the first attempt at therapy or medication. Combinations of treatments usually help another 30%, leaving about 40% of people who are resistant to treatment. He said there are other ways being developed to help these people, and many institutes have clinics for treatment-resistant mood disorders. There is also research into new agents to treat depression such as neural stimulation and research into psychedelics.

Kendrick said electroconvulsive therapy and other interventions can help 70 percent to 90 percent of those who don’t respond to other therapies. He said that although there may be negative side effects, when the alternative is the possibility of suicide and no relief from depression, these therapies can be a legitimate option.

“This is a very exciting time in understanding how we can improve depression through these new mechanisms,” he said. “There are really good options, and although we like to start with the more traditional approaches because they tend to have fewer side effects and other problems, there is absolutely hope.”

Resources for suicide prevention

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call 988 to connect to the 988 Lifeline for Suicide and Crisis./p>

Crisis hotlines

  • Huntsman Institute of Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
  • SafeUT Crisis Line: 833-372-3388
  • 988 LifeLine for 988 suicides and crises
  • The Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ Teens: 1-866-488-7386

Online resources

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Emily Ashcraft joined KSL.com as a reporter in 2021. She covers courts and legal issues, as well as health, faith and religion news.

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