From Our 2008 Archives

CDC: 1 in 20 Americans Depressed

Work, Home, and Social Life Suffers as a Result of Untreated Depression

By Denise Mann
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 3, 2008 — More than one in 20 Americans aged 12 and older are depressed, according to the latest statistics from the CDC.

Of them, 80% report some level of functional impairment because of their illness, with 27% reporting that it is extremely difficult to work, get things done at home, or get along with others because of the symptoms of their depression.

"Reflecting this high rate of functional impairment, almost two-thirds of the estimated $83 million that depression cost the United States in the year 2000 resulted from lowered productivity and workplace absenteeism," say study authors Laura A. Pratt, PhD, and Debra J. Brody, MPH, both at the CDC. The authors culled data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2005-2006, which comprised a nine-item screening tool asking about depressive symptoms during the past two weeks.

Baby Boomers, Women Hardest Hit by Depression

Rates of depression were higher in women and baby boomers aged 40-59 and non-Hispanic black people than other demographic groups, the study shows. And rates of depression were higher among poor people when compared to people with higher incomes.

A treatment gap also exists. Only 29% of depressed individuals said that they contacted a mental health professional in the past year, and just 39% of people with severe depression contacted a mental health professional in the past year.

Overall, "these numbers are a bit lower than what we've seen in the past, but about five or more percent of people are currently depressed — that's one in 20 people who are impaired by an illness," says Donald Malone, MD, the section head of adult psychiatric services at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. "If any other medical illness affected this many people, it would be a national crisis; but the reality is that depression is looked at differently and we don't hear those outcries for better treatment."

The stigma that is still attached to depression may be partially to blame.

"Many people still come in and say 'depression is not real. It's a character flaw and people in my family say snap out of it,'" he says. The bottom line? "People will not disclose something they feel stigmatized for."

Exactly how to lift the stigma associated with depression is a work in progress, he says.

"Continuing to get the word out that this is an illness and something that is treatable with psychotherapy and medications is helpful," he says. "Depression is something real, not a character flaw or just who you are. It's an illness and we can make a difference."

Another tactic, he says, is to approach employers and let them know that one of 20 people working for them is not very productive because he or she is suffering from a treatable illness. This may encourage employers to develop programs that screen for and encourage treatment for depression.

SOURCES: NCHS Data Brief: Depression in the United States Household Population, 2005-2006, September, 2008. Donald Malone, MD, section head, adult psychiatric services, Cleveland Clinic, Ohio.

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