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How Medics Miss the Signs of Depression

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 28 Jun 2015 | comments*Discuss
Depression Signs Symptoms Friends Family

Getting an accurate diagnosis for symptoms you are experiencing is always important. In the case of depression, however, your doctor could be missing the signs and symptoms of depression based on reports from your family and friends.

Depression Affects All Personality Types

Recent research suggests that this may be occurring more often than you might think. A doctor could be receiving inaccurate reports of a person’s depression symptoms from friends and family. The culprit is actually quite simple but can have significant results. The problem lies in the fact that a depressed person’s personality can be interpreted as one that is too positive to suffer from depression, thus leading to the signs of depression being missed.

How Personality Plays a Role in Diagnosis

A person who is normally very happy, positive and outgoing could be subject to inaccurate diagnosis. It may initially seem to be the opposite – a happy person suddenly showing sadness would be more obviously unhappy.

In reality though, depression can seem impossible to friends and family members of someone who is usually very fun-loving and positive. Their expectations are such that they would not even consider depression as a possibility. These reports are then relayed to a managing physician, who can use these inaccurate reports to make a similarly inaccurate diagnosis.

Why Family and Friends Matter

Many people ask friends and family to accompany them to the doctor’s surgery for visits. This is particularly true for depressed older adults, who may have other health problems and require the support of friends or family for medical visits.

Studying Older Adults and Depression

Researchers looked at nearly two hundred patients aged sixty or older as well as their friends and family members. Since older patients are more likely to talk about their health problems with friends and family, this group was of particular interest.

Outgoing Adults Can Experience Depression

What is interesting about the study is that researchers originally began the experiment thinking it would be introverted older adults who had their signs of depression missed. It seemed more logical that those who had a personality more closely aligned with depression symptoms such as withdrawal would have a missed diagnosis.

The opposite proved true. Friends and family of outgoing depressed persons couldn’t fathom that such a person would become depressed. The behaviours exhibited would more likely be brushed aside and not taken seriously. This indicates that education is important to show society that outgoing, happy people can still suffer from depression and the signs must be taken seriously.

Improving Outcomes for Depressed Adults

The consequences of a missed diagnosis of depression are more devastating than the illness itself. It is important for physicians to be aware of inaccuracies of reporting by friends and family members of the depressed person. If friends and family can also gain a better understanding of depression and how to identify the signs and symptoms, they can more accurately relay these findings to a doctor. In turn, treatment and monitoring quality can be enhanced.

Personality can play a part in how that depressed person is perceived and a physician should take this into account. With an accurate diagnosis and treatment, a depressed person has a better chance at recovering and getting their life back.

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