More people turning to primary care doctors or emergency centers for depression and suicidal thoughts

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Patient and doctor talking

Beaumont primary care and emergency medicine doctors say many patients see them for care that might surprise you: depression and suicidal thoughts. In fact, national data consistently shows spring and summer to be the most common seasons for suicide, not the gloomy winter months.

Primary care doctors, your frontline access to mental health care

Beaumont family medicine physician Dr. Jason Talbert says his patients’ top health complaints are depression and anxiety. “As a medical doctor, I order tests to check for underlying medical problems that could mimic depression or anxiety symptoms. For example, a simple blood test can rule out thyroid problems, diabetes and anemia, any of which could cause a patient’s fatigue or low mood.”

While some of his patients schedule appointments to discuss feelings of depression and anxiety, more often it comes out during their regular checkups: “Sometimes, they bring it up. If they seem to be struggling, I initiate this conversation. Either way, mental health is always discussed during my patients’ wellness visits.”

Talking openly about mental health can be difficult. Dr. Talbert reassures his patients by revealing how common depression is and how treatment can help people feel better. With his support, he says many of his patients are more inclined to open up.

“While many of my patients deal with mental health issues throughout the year, depression is much worse during winter because the lack of sunlight affects mood-related mental health issues. Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is real and very common,” he said.

Dr. Talbert’s patients know and trust him enough to discuss their most intimate issues. “Occasionally, I refer a patient to a psychiatrist for care,” he said. “However, most of my patients with anxiety and depression almost always want me to treat their mental illness, because there is still a social stigma attached to seeing a psychiatrist. Thankfully, that is lessening compared to years ago.”

If you are no stranger to depression and anxiety, it’s important to see your primary care physician for regular mental health checkups.

Emergency centers crowded with patients who have mental health issues

Dr. Arash Armin, Beaumont Hospital, Trenton’s chair of Emergency Medicine and chief of staff, said he encountered 14 patients with acute mental health diagnoses in just one weekend this summer.

“From January to July, we’ve cared for more than 500 patients in the Emergency & Trauma Center who came in either having attempted to take their own lives or who were experiencing suicidal thoughts,” said Dr. Armin.

Annually, about 2% of patients who come to Trenton’s emergency center have a purely psychiatric reason, but a much larger percentage of patients have medical issues combined with underlying mental health issues. These numbers do not include patients treated for substance abuse.

Comparing the Trenton Emergency Center’s data from all of 2018 to just the first seven months of this year, suicidal ideation diagnoses have increased 272%, from 182 for 2018 to 496 already in 2019. Attempted suicide diagnoses have increased almost 200% for all of 2018 to year-to-date 2019.

With the decreased number of inpatient psychiatric beds in the community, people with acute mental health needs wait on average longer than a day in the emergency center until a suitable location becomes available to them.

These numbers are not unique to the Downriver area, but rather indicative of the state of mental health care in Michigan and throughout the country. To address the mental health needs of the community, Beaumont Health has partnered with Universal Health Services on a comprehensive new campus that will enhance mental health services in Michigan.

To learn more, check out the Suicide and Depression episode of the Beaumont HouseCall podcast.

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