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Telehealth a lifeline for rural dwellers suffering depression
Illinois Correspondent

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Clinical depression is a mood disorder that results in feelings of sadness, loss, anger or frustration; it is more than just feeling a little down or a little low.

Dr. Jeffrey Bennett, assistant professor at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine’s (SIU) Department of Psychiatry, explained depression is “a clinical syndrome. It is more than feeling sad. The main form of depression is Major Depression.”
Along with Major, there is also Minor Depressive Disorder, which, although the word seems to indicate this is less serious than Major Depressive Disorder, he said “can be very disabling.

“Each year about 10 percent of the adult population suffers from depression,” Bennett stated. The factor that decides what type of depression a patient suffers depends on the number of criteria met.

Depression symptoms can include an erratic sleep/wake schedule, loss of appetite and loss of interest in those things that held attention before. “Depression can cause changes in thinking, excessive guilt and a preoccupation with death,” he said.
“If you suspect that you or your loved one is suffering from depression, contact your primary care provider and get in for an appointment, especially if thinking of ending life, going through social withdrawal, or experiencing erratic behavior; these are potential signs of depression.”

The earlier depression is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat. With better understanding of this disorder, he said more patients are seeking help and are ready to get their lives back on track. The first step is to diagnose the problem.

There are physical illnesses that mimic the symptoms of depression. Bennett explained these need to be ruled out through a physical with one’s primary care physician.

“The clinician can often clarify the medical cause of symptoms, and if the physician diagnoses a primary mental disorder, be sure that treatment is offered,” he said. It is usually the primary care physician that will prescribe and provide the treatment.

Finding treatment in rural areas can be an issue, but SIU is tackling this problem; in fact, it has been working on the issue since 2001. Author Steve Sandstrom explained in the SIU publication Aspect how Telehealth has been changing treatment for those outside the urban beltline: “The Telehealth videoconferencing systems allow SIU’s doctors and staff to connect and communicate with peers in 145 regional clinics and hospitals in the service region.

“The school has invested nearly $2.5 million in equipment and training during the past decade, much of it given through federal and state grants.”

For those doctors seeking specialist advice or some of the educational sessions on subjects such as depression, Telehealth can be the answer. Telehealth Network users hold 48 meetings each week, connecting SIU resources in Springfield to rural areas.
With only a few psychiatrists practicing in the SIU service area, Telehealth allows regional primary care physicians in two rural hospitals access to consulting psychiatrists via teleconferencing. This helps supplement local services.

Bennett praised the quality of the audio and video, adding it is critical to see and hear the reactions of the patients. “The quality of the setup here at SIU is great,” he said, crediting the Telehealth team for the success. “Without them, we wouldn’t be able to serve these patients.”

Karen V. Carlson, director of the SIU Office of Public Affairs, said, “The patients served by SIU Telehealth live in under-served areas, and the physicians also say they felt professionally isolated before they reached out to the School of Medicine for help.”

For those wanting more information about these treatments or to pass along to their physicians, contact the SIU Department of Psychiatry at 217-545-8000.