As a primary care physician, Dr. Ferentz is often the first person that patients see when they are experiencing a mental health problem. Many times, patients come to him with physical complaints like difficulty sleeping or sudden weight gain that they don’t realize are symptoms of a mental health disorder.
There is a diagnostic questionnaire that physicians use to identify the signs of depression in patients called the PHQ-9. If the patient is experiencing five or more of the symptoms every day for at least two weeks, he or she is considered to be clinically depressed. Those symptoms are:
- Depressed mood
- Having little pleasure or interest in doing things
- Sleep disturbance – sleeping too much, too little, at the wrong time, or waking up during the night
- Feeling tired and having little energy
- Feeling bad about yourself
- Trouble concentrating
- Change in appetite
- Feeling either sluggish or agitated and on edge
- Suicidal thoughts
He suggested that patients focus on their symptoms rather than labeling the diagnosis. “If I can give you a medication to help you with your sleep, you would take it, whether or not that’s an antidepressant doesn’t make a difference. Let me make your symptoms better,” he said. Dr. Ferentz also recommended that family and friends who are concerned about their loved one take this same perspective. “Show that you are there to support them and that you care about how this is affecting their life.”
A patient’s symptoms and family history can be used to predict what kind of medication may work best for him or her, but it’s not an exact science. There can be a trial and error period during which physicians work with the patient to find the most effective medication and dosage. Dr. Ferentz said that patients generally feel better within six weeks of starting their antidepressant.
During the interview, Dr. Ferentz also talked about the prevalence of suicide and how mental health treatment can prevent such tragedies from happening.