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Holiday Depression: Are Your Loved Ones at Risk?

Salt Lake City– The holiday season is here and with everyone rushing to prepare, you could be forgetting one very important thing, emotional wellbeing of your loved ones. Depression hits many people during the holidays and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has launched a national program to make sure we recognize depression in and provide treatment to an important population, Medicare beneficiaries.

“Holidays very often trigger depression, which may be related to the stress of the season, lasting through the holidays,” said Janet Tennison, PhD, LCSW, and project manager at HealthInsight Utah. “Or it could be a major depressive episode, which may require treatment by a medical professional.”

Whether it is the stress and busyness of the holiday season, a chronic illness or missing a loved one that brings on a depressive episode recognizing and treating it is key.

“Depression is not a normal part of aging and if we recognize it we can better treat our patients. Often times symptoms in older people are not “typical” and treatments for conditions like heart disease or diabetes can make people with depression feel worse. Screening for depression and treating the causes significantly improves the quality of life for our patients,” said Dr. Sarah Woolsey, the medical director for HealthInsight Utah and a practicing family physician.

Dr. Woolsey and Dr. Tennison are part of a team that is working to increase the ability of our Utah providers to routinely screen for depression and alcohol misuse and have resources to treat those that need it. CMS is funding the initiative.

“The purpose of this project is to increase the number of depression and alcohol misuse screenings in the primary care setting” Dr. Tennison said. “It’s a great opportunity to go into practices and help them implement screening protocols, augment or improve existing ones. Many providers use screening tools to diagnose depression and alcohol misuse, but may not have the resources, including time and staff, to really address these important topics. We can help them use team-based care processes to better treat and manage depression and alcohol problems in the practice.”

Right now 115 Utah practices have signed up to take advantage of the free resources, but HealthInsight has a goal of helping more than 200 practices in the state. In the meantime, Dr. Woolsey has some advice on how you can help your loved ones this holiday season.

“Many individuals do not realize they suffer from depression, so asking someone if they feel sad or blue may not really work. It’s better to ask if someone is having difficulty with sleep and appetite; if they have little interest in doing the things they once enjoyed; if they are feeling helpless, hopeless; angry or irritated,” Dr. Woolsey said. “If the answer to any of these is ‘yes’ then you should see what you can do to help; offering to accompany a loved one to see a family doctor, geriatric specialist or internal medicine provider is often a great way to move them towards feeling better.”

Dr. Woolsey and Dr. Tennison are available for interviews.

About HealthInsight
HealthInsight is a recognized leader in convening and partnering with our communities to improve health and health care by advancing quality, efficiency and value for patients and providers. HealthInsight Utah serves as a catalyst, using collaborative efforts to facilitate and promote the quality and safety of health care to achieve improved outcomes and value for all Utahans. Learn more at