Data reflects ‘public health crisis worsening in US even before the start of the pandemic’
NEW YORK – Depression is on the rise in the United States, according to sobering new research from Columbia University and City University of New York. Even more disturbing, the study authors add that even as depression has increased, there has been no increase in people seeking help or treatment in mental health.
Study authors say that by 2020, nearly one in 10 Americans reported experiencing depression in the past 12 months. Nearly one in five adolescents or young adults reported the same.
The data used for this project was provided by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2015 to 2020. That survey is a nationally representative poll of Americans ages 12 and older. Major depression is the most common mental disorder in the United States and is considered a strong risk factor for suicidal behavior.
Rises in depression rates are hardly a new trend; depression in the U.S. population rose from 6.6 percent in 2005 to 7.3 percent in 2015.
“Our study updates depression prevalence estimates for the U.S. population through the year 2020 and confirms the escalating increase in depression from 2015 to 2019, as a result of a public health crisis that intensified in the U.S. even before the onset of the pandemic,” it says. lead study author Renee D. Goodwin, PhD, an adjunct professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and Professor of Epidemiology at the City University of New York, said in a statement. “The net effect of these trends suggests an accelerating public health crisis and that parity and public service announcements have not led to equality in the treatment of depression.”
‘Depression early in life predictive of increased risk of additional mental health problems’
As of 2020, nine percent of Americans age 12 or older reported having had a major depressive episode in the past year. However, the condition was thought to be most common in both young adults (18-25 years) and adolescents 12 to 17 years old. Both age groups showed depression rates around 17 percent.
Meanwhile, depression increased most rapidly in adolescents and young adults, and also increased in nearly all gender, racial/ethnic, income and education groups. Interestingly, however, the prevalence of the condition did not change in adults over the age of 35. All in all, and perhaps most importantly, the percentage of people seeking help has remained consistently low.
“Our results showed that most adolescents with depression from 2015 to 2020 did not tell or speak to a health care professional nor receive pharmacological treatment,” notes Prof. Goodwin.
Non-Hispanic white subjects had the highest prevalence of depression, exceeding all other racial/ethnic groups. It was also more common in unmarried or previously unmarried women and adults. Even across income groups, depression levels increased across the board between 2015 and 2019. That said, those with the lowest household income had the highest prevalence of depression.
“The increased level and concentration of untreated depression in adolescents and young adults is especially problematic because untreated depression at a young age is predictive of an increased risk of subsequent additional mental health problems,” concludes Prof. Goodwin. “The short- and long-term impact of the pandemic on depression is not yet clear, but these estimates are a necessary starting point for quantifying the impact of the pandemic on mental health. There is an urgent need to expand evidence-based, community-based, audience-oriented campaigns that promote help seeking, early intervention, prevention, and education about depression.”
The study is published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.