Approximately four out of 10 people who took advantage of National Depression Screening Day in Berkeley Thursday showed indications of post-traumatic stress disorder. Counselors say the high rate may be a result of anxiety about the Sept. 11 attacks and the possibility of others.
The screening in Berkeley was part of an 11-year-old nationwide effort in which psychologists and therapists give free anonymous counseling at more than 4,500 sites. The event coincided this year with the one month anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America.
In consideration of those attacks, the screening added eight questions to assess post-traumatic stress. One, for example, asked “In the past week, to what extent have you lost enjoyment for things, kept your distance from people, or found it difficult to experience feelings?”
“In the wake of the events that happened on September 11th, we felt the need to address people’s emotional responses,” said Katherine Cruise, communications manager for the Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization Screening for Mental Health, Inc.
Nationwide, more people were expected to attend the annual screening because of the events of the past month. “I think it’s had a huge impact on people,” said Cruise. Although many of those who lost friends and family or who witnessed the tragedy and its aftermath will be encouraged to seek counseling, Cruise said that those who were not directly affected are also at risk for depression.
“For the rest of us who are all across the country, watching these indelible images over and over again on TV, watching those images can cause nightmares, insomnia or anxiety.” She added that uncertainty about what is coming next can also contribute to these symptoms.
Some 30 counselors worked in the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to assess the approximately 100 people looking for help. The majority of clients were students. Each person filled out a set of questionnaires designed to reveal signs of clinical depression or any related mental illness. In a 20 minute meeting, counselors then advised these individuals whether they should seek help and referred them to other services.
“We’re giving them resources and letting them know what’s out there,” said Oakland psychologist and screening organizer Lesley Parke.
UC Health Services counselor Susan Bell said that since the September attacks that office has seen an increase in students suffering from anxiety. In some cases the events of Sept. 11 exacerbated existing symptoms. Although more students have sought counseling, she wasn’t sure what had caused the increase. “The numbers are higher this year, but we don’t know if that is directly related to the attacks,” she said.
However, Parke said that the attacks did trigger a doubling in the number of students who wanted to volunteer at the event.UC Berkeley has been a screening site for the event for the last five years, sponsored by the Alameda County Psychological Association, University Health Services, the Association of Psychology Undergraduates and the Students for Mental Health Awareness.
According to the National Institute for Mental Health, every year approximately 18.8 million Americans, or about 9.5 percent of the population age 18 and older, suffer from a depressive disorder. The symptoms include the following: feelings of sadness, hopelessness or worthlessness, difficulty concentrating, constant fatigue, unexplained aches and pains, and thoughts of death or suicide. People who are aware of these symptoms in themselves or in their friends or family are encouraged to call the Alameda County Mental Health and Substance Abuse Access Program at 1-800-491-9099.