Utah Mental Health Experts Deal With When To Seek Help, Treatments For Depression

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

Estimated reading time: 4-5 minutes

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, an 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 Wednesday at a panel discussion hosted by the Huntsman Mental Health Institute.

Concern over the high suicide rate for Utahns between the ages of 15 and 24 has helped get more state funding allocated to tackle the problem, said Dr. Rachel Wier, an associate professor of psychology at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. There is now a child psychology hotspot available five days a week to help primary care providers who have mental health questions.

He said he has already improved Utah’s ranking in 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 a difficult period isn’t improving and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel, it’s time to ask for help.

She said many people, especially new mothers, are dealing with a mental health stigma and don’t want to talk about their struggles. But not asking for help puts them at greater risk. She said there is a lot of pressure during new parenting to do everything right.

Hales said that during the first year after having a child, the highest risk of death for a mother comes from suicide and overdose.

“It is always better to say something than to suffer in silence,” he said.

Starting with your primary care physician is a good idea, Wier said, adding that being treated early for depression can be crucial and can lead to a lower chance of chronic conditions or developing associated medical conditions.

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

He said the University of Utah is working to improve screening efforts, help patients follow up with doctors, 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 doctors and seek solutions.

Treatment for depression

People often go through times when they are sadder or more depressed, and there may be seasonal bouts of depression or sadness due to pain, but when these issues are associated 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 have to do and yet still suffer from this disease,” she said.

Kendrick said depression can be affected by many different things, such as biology and trauma, and identifying these factors is important in finding a useful treatment. Except in serious cases, therapeutic intervention and addressing the problems of the family system is the first step.

While medications can be helpful, he said it’s not a “magic pill” and that treatments should always be considered with the risks and potential benefits in mind.

The drugs carry risks of side effects, but Kendrick said that sometimes the brain risk of ongoing depression is worse than the possible negative effects of the drugs.

He said it’s important for care providers to follow up on problems that led a person to seek help and see if treatment is leading to improvements.

“It’s really important to have an objective approach to measuring 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 typically help another 30%, leaving about 40% of people resistant to treatment. She said there are other ways being developed to help these people, and many institutions have treatment-resistant mood disorder clinics. There has also been research on new agents to treat depression such as neural stimulation and research on psychedelics.

Kendrick said electroconvulsive therapy and other interventions can help 70% to 90% of those who don’t respond to other therapies. She said that although there may be negative side effects, when the alternative is a possibility of suicide and lack of relief from depression, these therapies can be a legitimate option.

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

Suicide Prevention Resources

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

Crisis hotline

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

Resources online

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

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