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Dear Ann Landers: Please tell your readers once again about National Depression Screening Day on Oct. 7. Last year, as the site coordinator, I received a phone call from an 80-year-old woman who read about the free screening in your column. "Millie" had recently lost her husband after 52 years of marriage, and was experiencing many of the symptoms of clinical depression. If it had not been for your encouragement, I don't believe "Millie" ever would have made that phone call.

Unfortunately, there is still a stigma for many people who seek mental health services. Your endorsement of events like the National Depression Screening Day makes it easier for people to come forward and get the help they need. Depression is very common, affecting more than 17 million Americans each year. But it is treatable, with most people showing major improvement within four to six weeks. Please continue to spread the word, Ann.

-- Mary Halpin, Ph.D., Illinois Psychological Association
Dear Dr. Halpin: Last year's National Depression Screening Day was the most successful ever, attracting more than 91,000 people to over 3,000 screening sites.

Depression is often misunderstood. People think it has to do with adjusting to a new job or city. Persistent sadness and irritability is dismissed as normal teen-age moodiness. Older people think it is a natural part of aging. College students often develop depression and blame themselves, thinking they can't handle the pressures of college. Children can suffer from depression, too. One in 33 children and one in eight adolescents may have clinical depression.

Common symptoms of depression include sadness, hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness. People with depression experience difficulty sleeping and changes in appetite. Sufferers no longer derive pleasure in activities that were once enjoyable, and may have difficulty concentrating and making decisions. Some people have vague medical complaints like aches and pains that won't go away; headaches, backaches and stomach ailments. Depression may also be characterized by thoughts of death and suicide.

This year, National Depression Screening Day is Oct. 7. Screenings are completely free and totally anonymous. No one asks for a name or makes any judgments. The clinicians and staff are there to help, educate and comfort. Those who may be experiencing symptoms of depression or know someone who is, should call the toll-free number that has been set up especially for my readers. It is (800) 242-2211 (TTY for the hearing-impaired: (800) 855-2880). These numbers are available starting today, and you will be given the location of the screening site in your area. The lines are open 24 hours a day.

Screening participants will hear an educational presentation and have the opportunity to take an anonymous, written screening test, pick up educational brochures, and meet individually with a clinician for a brief screening interview. Anyone who appears to have symptoms of depression will be directed to a treatment facility in his or her area.

If you see yourself in today's column, follow through. If you have a friend or loved one who may be depressed, please do whatever is necessary to get him or her to a screening site. Depression is nothing to be ashamed of. If you feel depressed, make that call now.

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