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

Experts at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute discussed when to seek help for depression Wednesday and…

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

Estimated read 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 the treatment … is really important,” he said during a panel discussion hosted by the Huntsman Mental Health Institute on Wednesday.

Concern about the high suicide rate for Utahns between 15 and 24 helped get more state funding allocated to address the issue, said Dr. Rachel Wier, an associate professor of psychology with the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. Now there is a child psychology access line available five days a week to help primary care providers who have questions about mental health.

She said that 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 rough patch is not improving and it seems like there is not light at the end of the tunnel, it’s time to get help.

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

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

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

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

“The earlier you can identify yourself or someone identifies you and … you start treatment, the better your outcome is going to 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 get more severe, she said they are working to train more mental health clinicians and look for solutions.

Treatment for depression

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

“You can literally be doing everything perfectly in your life that you need to be doing and yet still suffer from this illness,” he said.

Kendrick said depression can be affected by many different things, like biology and trauma, and identifying those factors is important to finding useful treatment. Except in severe instances, therapeutic intervention and addressing issues in the family system is the first step.

Although medication can be useful, he said it is not a “magic pill” and treatments should always be considered looking at the risks and the potential benefits.

Medications come with risks for side effects, but Kendrick said sometimes the risk to a brain from ongoing depression is worse than the possible negative effects of medication.

He said it is important for treatment providers to follow up on the issues that brought a person to seek help and see if treatment is leading to improvement.

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

Kendrick said about 30% of patients respond well to a first attempt at therapy or medication. Combinations of treatments typically 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 treatment-resistant mood disorders clinics. There has also been research into new agents to treat depression like neural stimulation and research into psychedelics.

Kendrick said electroconvulsive therapy and other interventions can help 70% to 90% of those who don’t respond to other therapies. He said although there can 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’s a very exciting time in understanding how we can improve depression through these novel mechanisms,” he said. “There’s 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 issues, there’s absolutely hope.”

Suicide prevention resources

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

Crisis Hotlines

  • Huntsman Mental Health Institute Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
  • SafeUT Crisis Line: 833-372-3388
  • 988 Suicide and Crisis LifeLine at 988
  • 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 affairs, as well as health, faith and religion news.

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