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David Baxter

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Mass online checkup targets mental health
Apr 4, 2006
by Christian Cotroneo, The Toronto Star

Quick test can help detect mood disorders
Agency says: 'You can't wish depression away'


About 300,000 people will be wading into a virtual doctor's office in what may be the biggest mass checkup in North America.

Starting today, the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario is inviting Greater Toronto to take an online test called Check Up from the Neck Up, designed to detect a broad range of mood disorders.

"We believe this campaign is the widest-reaching campaign of its kind anywhere in North America that focuses on checking your mental health as part of a normal health-care routine," says Ellen Ostofsky, director of development for the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario.

And there's little point in ignoring those friendly reminders, with everyone from Mayor David Miller to the Toronto Argonauts signing up to get the word out.

"Taking the checkup is a great idea," said Miller. "It's a quick, easy and confidential way for people to assess their mental health and access invaluable resources. It can be as important as taking charge of your physical health, yet too often goes forgotten or gets overlooked."

The advertising blitz began this week, with three different posters on TTC subway cars, on display at stations, in GO trains and Cineplex theatre lobbies, as well as on monitors in doctors' offices ? not to mention a series of radio spots on just about every major radio station.

"You are going to see it everywhere," Ostofsky says.

Because of the nature of the Internet, the test ? which officially kicks off Thursday and runs for three months ? will not be restricted to Greater Toronto residents.

"Our print and audio campaign is entirely in the GTA, but as you know the web is accessible to all," Ostofsky says. "We do believe that we will in fact have traffic on that website from many, many places."

But all the marketing muscle will be confined to the GTA. The website, checkupfromtheneckup.ca, is also supported by a list of local and provincial organizations, including Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre, the Ontario Psychological Association, the Ontario College of Family Physicians and the Ontario Pharmacists' Association.

It's a high-profile push for an illness that does the most damage when it goes undetected.

About 3 million Canadians suffer depression at any given time, but fewer than a third of them seek treatment.

"The problem with these illnesses is when people don't come to grips with it," says Karen Liberman, executive director of the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario.

"You can't wish cancer away. You can't wish diabetes away; you can't with cholesterol. You can't wish depression away. Eventually these illnesses take hold in the brain's chemistry. They become more and more complex to treat."

In the early stages, a mood disorder ? which ranges from clinical depression to bipolar disorder to obsessive-compulsive or anxiety disorder ? may be treated by a family doctor or a counsellor, recommending simple changes to a patient's lifestyle.

But as the condition becomes more serious ? as we allow it to take hold in the brain and try to live through it ? the results can be compared to any disease that has gone untreated for too long.

"If you see something growing on your skin, for God's sake, don't wait until it grows to the size of a silver dollar," Liberman says. "That's what really drives me crazy. It's a physical illness of brain chemistry. Why wouldn't you tend to it the same way?"
 

David Baxter

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The link for the online screening test is here.

The website also includes a variety of factsheets on topics such as anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, depression, menopause, PMS, seasonal affective disorder, suicide, and different treatment options.
 

Halo

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Well I have to say that I took the test and unfortunately I didn't learn anything new. I of course was hoping for the magic fix lol :). It does say at the end to do another check up in 6 months to see where you are at and I think I probably will.

Thanks Dr. B.
Nancy
 

JA

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looks like a great initiative! I was a bit suprised to see no questions on alcohol or substance use disorders, eating disorders, or many other DSM diagnostics... I think it's a great start though, and maybe they wanted to keep it short and sweet, asking things people were most likely to seek help for...
 

Peanut

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Nancy,
Well I have to say that I took the test and unfortunately I didn't learn anything new.
Do you mean that the test was accurate for you?? Did it mention conditions that you have been diagnosed with or anything?

I took the test and got a high probability that I have a condition that I've never been diagnosed with but wondered about myself once or twice.?

Taking that test was very interesting though.? It was brief but it seemed like there was some validity to it.? I think it's a good tool, some people (quite a few probably) will be much more likely to take the test and get information online than they would be likely to go to a doctor and ask for a mental health screening.
 

Banned

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I took the test and sent the results to my therapist. I've been trying to tell him that I think I have something more than dysthymia and this test agreed. Not that I trust this over him, but it was just something else to say "see". We'll see if this goes anywhere.
 

Halo

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Hi Toeless,

To answer your question...I did the test and yes it revealed exactly with what I had been diagnosed with - Depression and GAD. It also mentioned something about possibly Bipolar Disorder but I really don't agree with it and none of my previous doctors have mentioned it. It was accurate with the rest of it though.

Nancy
 

David Baxter

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This is intended only as a screening test. Anything it reveals should be followed up with a mental health professional - most tests of this type do tend to overdiagnose.
 

Halo

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Although it didn't reveal a lot about me that I didn't already know....I think that it was a good test for starters if someone is concerned about their mental health. Although it is good I almost wished that it didn't overdiagnose because I think that it might frighten people when they see the results. Now whether that frightens them enough to get help or whether they are so scared that they say/do nothing....only time will tell.

Nancy
 

David Baxter

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To clarify: What I meant by "overdiagnose" is twofold:

1. many or most screening tests may accurately detect that someone is depressed but overstate the degree of depression - for example, the screening test in David Burns' Feeling Good books may tell you that you are "severely depressed" - interpret that to mean that you are depressed but not necessarily "severely".

2. because the number of items in a screening test is limited and it's all self-report (as opposed to objective symptomatology), the test may suggest the possibility of an additional disagnosis like bipolae disorder based on self-report of "mood swings" or something, but it takes more than that to diagnose bipolar - think of it as suggesting something you may want to get checked out by a doctor or psychologist rather than something to be alarmed about.
 

Peanut

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Nancy, That test told me that I had a high probability that I was currently experiencing GAD too. Then it said there was a low probability that I was experiencing a mania. Then it said, you have no markers for (the other conditions). It was interesting. I went to the therapist today but I forgot to ask about it (although maybe it wouldn't matter anyway in terms of treatment?). I love taking online tests like that though!

Nancy, that's a good point about the possible effects of over diagnosing...I remember on another test I took a while back, it said I had like six different disorders...I thought that was unlikely so I didn't take that test very seriously, but if I would have believed it I would have been very scared!

BG, that is so handy that you can email that to your therapist! It will be interesting to hear what he says about it.
 

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