You'd think the most basic task of a doctor would be to identify what's wrong with his patients.
But too many doctors can't, and new research shows the problem is especially bad when it comes to recognizing the signs of depression.
The study, published in July in Lancet, found that doctors miss real cases of depression half the time, and incorrectly diagnose it in healthy people nearly 20 percent of the time.
So you have half of all depressed people fighting this condition with no help at all, while the rest are taking powerful and dangerous meds. Not only that, but millions of people who aren't even depressed are taking those drugs, too.
That means if you take a random group of 100 Americans, 25 of them have taken or will take drugs for a depression that only 10 of them have – while 10 more people are walking around, undiagnosed, quietly battling depression on their own.
And that's a battle you can't win by yourself.
Not that the help most doctors provide is much better. I've written extensively about the problems with antidepressants and the real solution in my book "The Body Heals, Second Edition." I've also looked at some of the problems with these drugs right here in House Calls, most recently in June.
Doctors today need to be a little bit of everything. Sure, there are specialists who treat specific conditions like depression, but the reality is that many people either don't have the coverage, extra money or time to go see one.
That leaves it up to the family doctor, who must have a little bit of everything in his medical bag, and a little bit of everything in his education.
Too bad this generation of doctors is ill-prepared to take on these extra roles. Years ago when I took my sabbatical to study about the overlooked science for how our body heals, I was shocked to find that medical educations have been dumbed down so much in recent decades that many doctors are prepared to do little more than match a symptom to a med.
When it comes to mental health, clearly there are still people who are too embarrassed by the idea of depression to seek help.
But as this latest study shows, too many doctors don't know what to do when these folks hop up onto the examination table. What they don't realize is that they often have the power to treat depression safely, effectively and without dangerous and powerful meds.
But you can't even begin that process if you can't identify the problem in the first place.
And you end up with what we have today: 27 million Americans on antidepressants, whether they need them or not.
There's only one winner here, and it's not the doctor or the patients. It's the folks who are selling the meds.