Nearly one in 10 in the US reports having depression - study

In 2020, 9% of Americans surveyed had experienced a major depressive episode within the past year. Depression rates were highest in adults aged 18-25 (17%).

 Illustrative image of a person dealing with depression.  (photo credit: PIXABAY)
Illustrative image of a person dealing with depression.
(photo credit: PIXABAY)

Major depression is unfortunately a common and potentially lethal disorder. A study published on Monday in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Preventative Medicine suggests that the rate of depression and the severity of cases have gone up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The short- and long-term consequences of the pandemic on depression are not yet clear, but these estimates are a requisite starting point for quantifying the mental health impact of the pandemic."

Renee D. Goodwin, PhD.

“Our study updates the depression prevalence estimates for the US population through the year 2020 and confirms escalating increases in depression from 2015 through 2019, reflecting a public health crisis that was intensifying in the US even before the onset of the pandemic,” said lead author 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.

“The net effect of these trends suggests an accelerating public health crisis, and that parity and public-service announcement efforts have not achieved equity in depression treatment.”

Researchers used data from the 2015-2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a study of US citizens aged 12 and older. In 2020, 9% of Americans surveyed had experienced a major depressive episode within the past year. Depression rates were highest in adults aged 18-25 (17%). Across all ages, the prevalence of seeking help was consistently low. 

Research results

“Our results showed most adolescents with depression neither told or talked with a healthcare professional about depression symptoms nor received pharmacologic treatment from 2015 through 2020,” noted Goodwin.

Depression (illustrative) (credit: ING IMAGE)Depression (illustrative) (credit: ING IMAGE)

What is more, while there was a general increase in depression among all demographics, the highest prevalence was among those in the lowest income bracket. Also, depression was consistently higher among women than among men. 

“The elevated level and concentration of untreated depression among adolescents and young adults are especially problematic because untreated depression early in life is predictive of an increased risk of subsequent additional mental health problems,” said Goodwin.

“The short- and long-term consequences of the pandemic on depression are not yet clear, but these estimates are a requisite starting point for quantifying the mental health impact of the pandemic," she said. "Expanding evidence-based, community-based, public-facing campaigns that promote help-seeking, early intervention, prevention and education about depression are urgently needed.”