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Depression study casts new doubts

Depression study casts new doubts April 11, 2007 — One out of four people diagnosed with clinical depression are misdiagnosed, as their condition is caused by grief over such experiences as divorce, the loss of a job or the loss of a loved one, according to a recent study led by an NYU professor.


The current criteria for diagnosis is a checklist of nine symptoms such as insomnia and lack of appetite; a person has to exhibit at least five symptoms for at least two weeks.

The study’s lead author, NYU School of Social Work professor Jerome Wakefield, said the checklist method brings into question the validity of depression diagnoses.

“In modern medicine, this automatic checklist is very ‘efficient,'” he said, “but this kind of mechanized process could misdiagnose, and psychologists need to pay attention to a broader range of contextual variables.”

The authors of the study said that the criteria for depression should exclude bereavement-related sadness.

Researchers Mark Schmitz of Temple University, Michael First of Columbia University and Allen Horowitz of Rutgers University, based their study on a national survey of 8,098 adults.

They found that those suffering from stressful events felt various depressive symptoms, but aren’t necessarily clinically depressed. Although it may be common sense, Wakefield said, grief is unique, and does not necessarily indicate mental illness.

In an era with a multibillion-dollar antidepressant market in America, Wakefield’s study is relevant to the complicated matter of distinguishing depression from natural sadness.

This study resonates particularly among the NYU community, which experienced six student suicides from 2003 to 2004. However, NYU’s mental health clinicians are unlikely to mistake grief for depression, according to Dr. Henry Chung, executive director of NYU’s health center.

Chung said he has found no evidence of overdiagnosing depression in NYU students.

“The parallel I would draw is the following: We all know that fever can be caused for many reasons – sometimes it gets better but sometimes it persists and it affects how a person feels and functions for a longer time,” Chung said.

GSP freshman Tiffany Chang recounted her counseling experience at the health center.

“The psychologist was asking very expected questions, I didn’t really feel like she knew me,” Chang said. “She was writing down everything I said, and then I felt like she was just reading from a sheet.”

GSP freshman Hannah Birenz agreed on the gravity of prescribing antidepressants.

“Had the greatest thinkers of our time been on antidepressants, they would not have come to think their own thoughts and become who they became,” Birenz said. By: Shira Rubin SOURCE:- © Copyright 2007 Washington Square News

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