For three decades, Sally knew something was amiss with her body.
"I had no idea what I was battling, but I would feel extremely anxious and depressed," she said.
Sally, which is not her real name, became so overwhelmed with anxiety she remained housebound for a week, unable to go to work or even to the grocery store.
"I was afraid of stepping outside the door and I was fearful of the future," she said. "It's like a baseless fear, a feeling of hopelessness and helpless."
Sally, now 51, had hit rock bottom. She decided to check herself into a behavioral center 10 years ago, which began her journey to recovery.
Depression is a common mental health condition, affecting 19 million Americans yearly, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Yet less than half of people suffering from the illness seek help.
Thursday is National Depression Screening Day and local residents can visit a handful of locations to undergo free screenings for depression, manic depression, generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Marilyn Hughes, San Joaquin County's chief mental health clinician, said the county is offering 18 locations, almost double the number of sites as last year.
Mental health officials are concerned more people could be suffering from depression after last year's terrorist attacks, Hughes said.
"We know that some depressions run in families, but may not surface because there hasn't been a stressor," Hughes said. "For many of us, Sept. 11 was a serious stressor."
Other concerns - stock market woes, job losses and uncertainty of future war in the Middle East - could aggravate stress levels, triggering depression, she said.
"We're trying to educate people on the symptoms to look for and encourage them to get help," she said. "We know the earlier people get to a physician, the fewer people will need our crisis services."
Rekha Mehta, a mental health specialist at the county's Lodi outpatient clinic, said depression can drive some people to commit suicide if left untreated.
"If a family member is making suicidal statements, you should be concerned about that," she said, adding the person should be encouraged to seek out help.
Symptoms of depression include persistent sad, anxious or empty mood; feelings of hopelessness, guilt or helplessness; loss of interest in ordinary activities; fatigue; restlessness or irritability; changes in sleep patterns, appetite or weight; thoughts of death or suicide.
As part of the screenings, mental health officials will present information about depression and treatment resources.
Participants can take a self-test, which will be reviewed along with a mental health professional.
For Sally, seeking help was one of the best decisions of her life.
Sally was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and tried several different medications to help regulate her body's chemical imbalance.
It would take several years before she received psychotherapy for the underlying depression, but her regimen is now established.
Unlike some of her family members who attempted suicide or took their own life, Sally has battled the anxiety attacks and depression.
In the last three years, she's reclaimed her life, she said.
"I'm taking three medications, but I'm feeling good. I finally feel like myself again," she said.
For more information on depression, contact San Joaquin County Mental Health Services at 468-8700 or the crisis line at 468-8686.
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