Expert advice

Dr Caroline West: GP

Dr Caroline West combines her role in a busy inner-city general medical practice with presenting, producing and writing for a number of Australian television shows and magazines. ASK ME A QUESTION

Tests for depression

Monday, October 22, 2007
While there are no 'scans' or physical tests for depression, doctors are trained to diagnose it based on observation of symptoms...

Hi Paul, I just had a miscarriage recently and lost my job in the same week. I've always been a depressive type. I am also a bubbly lively person when things are okay. I don't feel affected by the miscarriage but as I had come off the medication for depression during the pregnancy I was okay for three months. I now dread having to go back on the meds as they make me fat but I'm seriously depressed trying to find a job that looks halfway decent. I'm disgusted at my weakness and sometimes don't really know if depression is just a lot of excuses but at the same time I know that I'm not gaining anything from this for it to be just me feeling sorry for myself. I really don't believe I am doing this miserable thinking on purpose. How can depression be measured? Are there scans that can be done to see if my brain is 'x' amount distorted? I just think medications don't really fix the problem. Is there anything else that can be done?

I'm so sorry to hear about your miscarriage and how you're feeling at the moment. It's not surprising that these events have had an affect on you, as stress can often contribute to triggering an episode of depression. As you know, part of being depressed is that you feel negative and hopeless about everything — which just makes you feel even worse, of course. While there are no 'scans' or physical tests for depression, doctors are trained to diagnose it based on observation of symptoms and what you are able to tell them about its effect on how you think and feel. They can then prescribe the most effective treatment — often a combination of medication with psychotherapy. A GP can now prepare an individual mental health plan for you. As part of this you should be able to discuss with the doctor which antidepressant medication will be most effective for you while minimising any possible side effects such as weight gain. You may also be given a referral to a psychologist (or other suitably-qualified health professional) for a course of psychotherapy which will help you to manage the symptoms of depression better yourself. Remember, too, that if the GP you see does not seem to understand your concerns, then you are free to see another doctor who will be more helpful.

For more information about depression and treatments, visit the SANE website or call freecall 1800 18 SANE.

GettyAsk the expert: How do you know if you have glaucoma? GettyAsk the expert: Macular degeneration and diet How to beat the mid-afternoon slump Tiredness after glandular fever