‘Always better to say something than suffer silently,’ Utah mental health experts say

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

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s rate is similar to the rest of the country, with more than a third of Americans suffering from depression, and the state’s suicide rate is high, said Dr. Jeremy Kendrick said.

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

Concern about the high suicide rate for Utahns between 15 and 24 helped push for more state funding to address the problem, said Dr. Huntsman, an associate professor of psychology at the Institute of Mental Health. Rachel Wier said. A Child Psychology Access Line is now available five days a week to help primary care providers with mental health questions.

Utah’s ranking on access to care has already improved, she said.

When should someone seek help?

Jamie Hales, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in treating women and couples during pregnancy and childbirth, said when a rough patch isn’t improving and it seems like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, it’s time to get help.

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

Hales said a mother’s highest risk of death in the first year after having a baby is from suicide and overdose.

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

While it’s a good idea to start with your primary care doctor, Wier said early treatment can be critical and reduce the likelihood of developing chronic conditions or developing related medical conditions.

“The earlier you can detect yourself or someone detects you … the sooner you start treatment, the better your outcome will be,” Wier said.

The University of Utah is working to improve screening efforts, allow patients to follow up with doctors and integrate mental health services into their primary care clinics, she said. Although the shortage of mental health providers is expected to worsen, she said they are working to train more mental health doctors and find solutions.

Treatment for depression

Often people go through periods when they feel more sad or depressed and may have periods of depression or sadness due to grief, but when these issues are paired with an inability to function, it’s time to seek professional treatment, Kendrick said.

“You can do absolutely everything in your life 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 those factors is important to finding a useful treatment. Except in severe cases, therapeutic intervention and resolution of family system problems is the first step.

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

Medications carry risks for side effects, but Kendrick said that sometimes the risks to the brain from ongoing depression are worse than the drugs’ potential side effects.

He said it’s important for treatment providers to seek help and follow up on problems a person has brought up to see if treatment leads to improvement.

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

Kendrick said about 30% of patients respond well to the first attempt at treatment or medication. Combinations of treatments usually help another 30%, leaving about 40% of people resistant to treatment. Other methods are being developed to help these people, he said, and many institutions have treatment-resistant psychopathy clinics. There has also been research into new agents to treat depression, such as neurostimulation, and research into psychology.

Electroconvulsive therapy and other interventions can help 70% to 90% of those who don’t respond to other treatments, Kendrick said. While there may be negative side effects, he said, these treatments can be a legitimate option when the alternative is suicidal and depression is not an option.

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

Suicide prevention resources

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call 988 to connect with the 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 988
  • Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ youth: 1-866-488-7386

Online resources

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Emily Ashcraft joined KSL.com as a reporter in 2021. She covers court and legal affairs as well as health, faith and religious news.

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