I Got Screened for Depression

Checking out the "celebration" that is National Depression Screening Day

depressionday2615.jpgThe Community Counseling Services Center at George Washington University, one of more than 1,000 screening sites

"There are no balloons to mark the occasion of National Depression Screening Day."

As I walk from The Atlantic's D.C. offices to the address provided to me by Dr. Monica Megivern of George Washington University, I think to myself that this could be a great first line for my first-person piece about taking part in the nationwide campaign where over 1,000 sites are offering free screening for depression.

The problem is, there are balloons. Blue and yellow ones, because although GW's real colors are blue and buff, the latter color is hard to come by, Megivern explains. So yellow will have to do.

There's also chocolate, purchased in bulk from Costco, of the type that will later this month be given out to trick-or-treaters and which is currently being used to anchor piles of brochures and informational packets about mood disorders. An unopened box of tissues serves the same function.

Balloons, chocolate, a crisp fall morning. As someone who stops to get evaluated points out, it's enough to skew the results.

The other problem with this whole first-person take on getting screened for depression, I quickly realize, is that even before I got an endorphin boost from a fun-sized bag of Peanut M&Ms, I wasn't likely to "test positive" for depression. As I sit on a bench to fill out the form I've been handed, the most I can honestly admit to is feeling low in energy and having difficulty making decisions "some of the time." Same goes for the questions intended to screen for mood and generalized anxiety disorders. I don't even bother to answer the questions about post-traumatic stress disorder. If anything, I can say that the survey makes me feel better about the fact that I don't seem to have anything to worry about, but even that's a stretch.

Christina, the second year intern in the department of counseling who stands aside with me to go over my results, doesn't give me anything more to work with. I try to prompt her: "Well, I do have a family history of depression. A prominent one." She assures me that this isn't something to be overly concerned about, as I myself am not experiencing any symptoms.

I give it one more attempt: "Also, I just moved to D.C. It's my first time living on my own, and it's hard being so far away from my family. The ones who -- as I mentioned -- may have passed their depression on to me. So how do I know if my bad moods are just because of all this stuff I'm dealing with, or if maybe I need more help?"

"I think counseling can be a great idea, even if you're feeling really happy and don't have any symptoms," Christina offers.

But I get the hint. I'm not the target audience here.

Meanwhile, Megivern and her assistants are earnestly appealing to everyone who walks past their table, asking, "Would you like to take a survey about your mood?" Or, a bit more desperately, "Would you like some candy?" They have the unmistakable zeal of missionaries, trying to draw people in to conversation or at least get them to take some reading material.

Over and over, they got the response that most people who set up tables in public places tend to receive: "Sorry, I'm busy." Or, if they're lucky, "Maybe later."

One girl who walks by without stopping remarks to her friend, "I don't think I'm, like, sad."

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Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

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