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New Analysis: Major Depression On The Rise Among Everyone In The US

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Kuldeep Singh
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According to a new study undertaken by the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and the City University of New York, depression is on the rise without commensurate increases in therapy.

Nearly one in ten Americans and nearly one in five teenagers and young adults reported having experienced depression in the previous 12 months in 2020.

The findings are published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The 2015–2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health is a nationally representative study of U.S. residents aged 12 and up and was the source of the data used in this analysis.

Major depression is the most common mental illness in the U.S., and it is also the biggest predictor of suicide. According to prior research, the prevalence of depression in Americans rose from 6.6 percent in 2005 to 7.3 percent in 2015.

This new analysis on major depression “updates the depression prevalence estimates for the U.S. population through the year 2020,” according to Renee D. Goodwin, PhD, an adjunct professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and professor of Epidemiology at The City University of New York, and also “confirms escalating increases in depression from 2015 through 2019 reflecting a public health crisis that was intensifying in the U.S. even before the onset of the pandemic.” 

As a whole, these trends point to a worsening public health crisis and show that parity and public service announcements have not led to equal treatment of depression.

In 2020, 9% of Americans aged 12 or older had a major depressive episode in the past year. Young adults aged 18 to 25 and adolescents aged 12 to 17 had higher rates of depression, both at somewhat more than 17 percent (16.9 percent).

Nearly all gender, racial/ethnic, financial, and educational groups had an increase in depression, with teenagers and young adults experiencing the fastest growth. However, among persons aged 35 and older, the prevalence of depression remained stable. Help-seeking was low overall.

The findings of the study reveal “most adolescents with depression neither told or talked with a healthcare professional about depression symptoms nor received pharmacologic treatment from 2015 through 2020,” according to Goodwin.

Compared to all other racial/ethnic groupings, non-Hispanic white people had a higher prevalence of depression. Non-married adults and women, in general, had a higher risk of depression.

From 2015 to 2019, the number of people with depression went up in every income group, but the number of people with depression was highest in the lowest income group.

According to Goodwin, “the greater prevalence and concentration of untreated depression among adolescents and young adults is particularly troubling as “untreated depression early in life is predictive of an increased risk of subsequent additional mental health problems.”

Although the short- and long-term effects of the pandemic on depression are not yet known, these estimations are a necessary starting point for calculating the pandemic’s effect on mental health.

It is critical to enhancing evidence-based, neighborhood-based, public-facing activities that encourage seeking treatment, early intervention, prevention, and depression education.

Image Credit: Getty

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