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Primary care is relatively affordable and accessible resource for screenings and basic treatment.

A pandemic, racial discord, political divisions – this confluence of problems can affect moods and mental health. It’s not surprising that more people are feeling symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Amanda Phelps, RN, PA-C, MHS, is a physician assistant at the Vanderbilt Health and Williamson Medical Center Primary Care Clinic in Nolensville. In recent months she’s seen a trend: “I’d say 80% of my day is discussing anxiety, depression” – either someone’s dealt with it a while and symptoms are worsening, or in others, they are feeling such symptoms for the first time. In the latter case, they might assume they need a psychologist or psychiatrist. But primary care can be an effective resource.

“The best first move is getting in with primary care,” Phelps said. “I think a lot of times (patients) feel more comfortable coming to primary care, because we have that established relationship, and hopefully they would feel like we were easy to talk to.”

Signs of anxiety or depression can include but are not limited to:

What a primary care provider can do

The Nolensville primary care clinicians offer assessments for anxiety and depression. They’ll talk with patients about goals and symptoms. “Maybe we recommend counseling -- or counseling and medication – and primary care can definitely start medications for anxiety/depression,” Phelps said.

Phelps can make referrals to a psychiatrist for patients with severe symptoms, or those who aren’t making progress after several weeks. Some insurance plans require a referral for care by a specialist, Phelps added, another reason to turn to primary care first.

Primary care is usually a more affordable and more accessible resource for those dealing with anxiety and depression, compared with making a first-time appointment with a psychologist or psychiatrist. That’s reassuring to know during these months of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. A study published in JAMA Network Open found that prevalence of depression symptoms in the U.S. more than tripled, from 8.5% of participants reporting depression symptoms in studies done before COVID-19, to 27.8% of participants reporting symptoms during the early weeks of the pandemic.

For those who do not have a primary care provider, it’s a good idea to choose one. That’s the case even if they feel they are getting through this difficult time without any significant change in mood or motivation. Primary care offers a wide range of basic care – and, as Phelps points out, there’s real value in having a healthcare provider who builds a long-term working relationship with you and understands not only your health but your goals and lifestyle.