Nearly 1 in 10 American adults, 1 in 5 teens report depression

Data reflect “public health crisis intensifying in US even before pandemic begins”

NEW YORK – Depression is on the rise in the United States, according to new research from Columbia University and the City University of New York. Even more concerning, the study authors add that while depression has increased, there hasn’t been an increase in people seeking mental health help or treatment.

The study’s authors say that in 2020, nearly one in 10 Americans reported having depression in the previous 12 months. Nearly one in five teens or young adults reported the same.

The data used for this project have been provided by the National survey on drug use and health spanning from 2015 to 2020. This survey is a nationally representative survey of Americans age 12 and older. Major depression is the most common mental disorder seen in the United States and is considered a strong risk factor for suicidal behavior.

Increases in depression rates are not a new trend; Depression in the US population rose from 6.6% in 2005 to 7.3% in 2015.

“Our study updates depression prevalence estimates for the US population through 2020 and confirms the increase in depression from 2015 to 2019, reflecting a public health crisis that was intensifying in the US even before the start of the pandemic,” the lead study says. author Renee D. Goodwin, PhD, assistant 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 efforts to promote parity and public service have failed to achieve equity in the treatment of depression.”

“Early Life Depression Predicts Increased Risk of Additional Mental Health Problems”

As of 2020, nine percent of Americans age 12 and older reported experiencing a major depressive episode in the past year. However, the disease was considered to be more common among both young adults (aged 18-25) and adolescents aged 12-17. Both age groups had depression rates of around 17 percent.

Meanwhile, depression increased most rapidly among adolescents and young adults, and also increased across nearly all gender, race/ethnicity, income, and education groups. Interestingly, however, the prevalence of the disease did not change when it came to adults over 35 years of age. Overall, and perhaps most importantly, rates of people seeking help remained consistently low.

“Our results showed that the majority of teenagers with depression did not talk or talk to a health professional about depression symptoms or receive drug treatment from 2015 to 2020,” Professor Goodwin said.

Non-Hispanic white individuals showed the highest prevalence of depression, surpassing all other ethnic or racial groups. It was also more common among women and adults who were unmarried or previously married. Even across income groups, levels of depression generally increased between 2015 and 2019. That said, those with the lowest household incomes had the highest prevalence of depression.

“The high level and concentration of untreated depression among adolescents and young adults is particularly troubling because untreated depression early in life is predictive of a greater risk of additional mental health problems later on,” concludes Professor Goodwin. “The short- and long-term consequences of the pandemic on depression are still unclear, but these estimates are a necessary starting point for quantifying the impact of the pandemic on mental health. Expanding campaigns is urgently needed public-facing, evidence-based, community-based strategies that promote help-seeking, early intervention, prevention, and education about depression.”

The study is published in American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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