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These are stressful times for many Americans, and today's pressures and problems can undermine mental health and raise the risk of depression, experts say.
To help clear a path to better days, mental health experts across the country will participate Thursday in National Depression Screening Day.
Professionals will provide free, anonymous screenings at 7,000 sites nationwide for those who think they might be depressed. Screenings also will be available at more than a dozen military bases.
''Only about half of the population that suffers from a depressive disorder gets treatment,'' says Douglas Jacobs, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Jacobs established Screening for Mental Health, a non-profit organization that has sponsored this annual event since 1991, as a way to encourage those who have problems with mental health to get treatment.
''Depression is believed to be a combination of biologic predisposition and negative life events,'' Jacobs says.
With a shaky economy taking jobs this year, many people are struggling with stress within the family and facing marital separations, Jacobs says.
Members of the military fighting in Iraq and their families at home face additional stress, he says.
Clinicians at the screening sites will look for signs of depression, manic-depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress.
Participants will be asked to fill out a questionnaire, and clinicians will analyze the answers to determine whether there is cause for concern.
Though official diagnoses will not be given, participants will be told about resources within their communities for treating depressive disorders, regardless of their ability to pay.
''Someone should go if they're concerned that they themselves or a loved one may be suffering from depression . . . just as if they were concerned that they had high blood pressure,'' Jacobs says.
Depression has become increasingly prevalent among Americans since World War II, he says. ''And we don't have all the explanations for it.'' In any given year, an estimated 18.8 million adults develop a depressive illness. As many as 200,000 people a year have been screened through the National Depression Screening Day.
''It's an opportunity for people to check themselves out emotionally and do it in a way that's easy and non-threatening,'' Jacobs says. Many people might be reluctant to accept that they have a problem, he adds.
Those interested in participating can find local sites by visiting www.mentalhealthscreening.org or by calling 800-520-6373.
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