Depression Statistics in the US: What You Need to Know
It’s no surprise that depression and anxiety are on the rise in the U.S. In fact, the rates tripled during the early days of the pandemic. What is surprising is that the numbers have continued to climb even as we enter the endemic phase of COVID rather than going down.
What is the reason for the continued increase, and how do the numbers break down? Could it be that we just haven’t had enough time to collect adequate post-pandemic data, or is there something else at play?
Depression by the Numbers: Who’s Affected?
According to data collected by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), depression affects approximately 19.4 million adults, However, children can also suffer from depression.
According to the CDC, 4.4% of kids between the ages of 3 and 17 have been diagnosed with depression. That’s nearly 3 million kids during the three-year timeframe of the study.
The demographic breakdown for higher rates of clinical depression in adults is:
- Young adults, aged 18 – 29 years old (21.0%)
- Adults in the 45-64 age range (18.4%)
- Seniors aged 65 or over (18.4%)
There are a number of different kinds of depression that a person can experience. Here are a few.
Major Depressive Disorder
When people are diagnosed with depression, this is mostly what they have. It’s also called “clinical depression,” and symptoms include:
- sleeping or eating not enough or too much
- loss of interest in hobbies or other activities
- low energy
- inability to concentrate
- low self-worth
When these symptoms persist for two weeks or more at a time, this may be classified as clinical depression. Of the almost 20% of Americans who were diagnosed with depression, it’s estimated that about 9.6% of women have been diagnosed with this disorder as have 6% of men. People between the ages of 18 and 25 were the most represented group with 15.2%. When it comes to ethnicity, this number is also highest among people who consider themselves to be of two or more races or ethnicities: 13.7%
Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD)
When the symptoms of depression last for two years or more, this is persistent depressive disorder, also called dysthymia. While the symptoms are less severe in those who suffer from PDD than from major depressive disorder, the symptoms last a very long time, and this can make those afflicted with it feel hopeless.
Bipolar disorder, formerly called “manic depression,” is marked by extreme shifts in mood. A person afflicted with this disorder will often be depressed for some time and then will sometimes experience an intensely happy, excited state for another period of time. It’s estimated that as many as 5 million Americans suffer from bipolar disorder, and symptoms can be managed with medication. While not all people with bipolar disorder experience depression, the overwhelming majority do.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
In addition to ongoing, chronic clinical depression, the American Medical Association estimates that 5% of the general population suffers from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). While it only occurs in less than 3% of the overall population, 10-20% of people with the major depressive disorder also have SAD, and about one-quarter of people with bipolar disorder are affected by SAD.
This condition differs slightly from mild or chronic depression because it seems to be environmental and limited to colder climates or months with low sunlight and longer periods of darkness. However, some people do experience it in the summer months as well.
Another major source of depressive symptoms for women is postpartum depression. This condition occurs after the birth of a child and is rooted partly in hormonal changes as well as anxiety over the stress of new parenthood. It can also affect new fathers to some degree, especially if they have a history or risk factors for depression.
Statistics on this condition vary according to publication, with the CDC putting the numbers at one out of 10 new mothers experiencing postpartum depression while results from the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) found that it affects one out of every 8 women who give birth in the U.S.
Postpartum depression is more likely to affect adolescent parents, those living in urban areas, and those who deliver premature babies.
This rare form of depression usually encompasses extreme symptoms in which the person hears voices, sees things that aren’t there, or believes things that aren’t true. Like almost all types of depression, except postpartum depression, psychotic depression can be brought on by drug use.
Why Are Americans So Depressed?
It’s not so difficult to figure out why depression rose during the pandemic. Seemingly endless lockdowns, social isolation, and economic uncertainty combined with the regular stress of day-to-day living made even sound, generally happy people experience new levels of anxiety.
These factors, in turn, translated to higher levels of depression overall as well as worsening of chronic depression in those who were already struggling with mental health issues. According to one study, those most affected by the pandemic were from low-income households, unmarried or living alone, and experienced higher rates of other stressors, such as joblessness or substance use disorders
Other contributing factors were concerns for one’s own personal health or that of family members, deaths of family and friends, and ongoing economic uncertainty.
Another study published by the University of Alabama discovered that the effects of the pandemic hit people of color harder compared to white people in similar circumstances.
Consider that between 2019 and 2020, white people were 218% more likely to experience anxiety and depression. However, black Americans experienced a 280% increase while Hispanics and Asian-Americans had 344 and 560 times the probability of developing depression and anxiety disorders. This was partly due to other social factors that were occurring at different times during the pandemic. The mental health outcomes also tended to be worse for these demographics.
What’s more, treatment was harder to access for all demographics during those trying times, regardless of demography or socioeconomic status. Even if mental health facilities were open and able to provide telehealth visits, the increased caseloads for mental health professionals meant less access to timely and personalized treatment.
What explains the continued rise in depression rates in almost every demographic as we transition back into some semblance of normality? Typically, depression that occurs as the result of traumatic event peaks at the height of the situation and then decreases over time.
However, the pandemic was an ongoing event with no set timeline for resolution. Even those who put their best face forward and tried to remain positive at the onset began to experience symptoms of depression that remained as the uncertainty dragged on over a period of nearly two years.
Since businesses, schools, and social events have reopened, the rates of depression and related disorders have remained steady or increased, however. According to a Brown University study, this may be because people are still dealing with problems that the pandemic causes, such as financial or housing insecurity or joblessness. The same study noted that these concerns are higher among vulnerable, low-income populations.
Sadness or Depression: What’s the Difference?
Sadness – and even mild depression – are temporary emotional issues that tend to dissipate with time. Depression is often a chronic, progressive condition that worsens without treatment.
What separates one condition from the others is the degree and length of time that symptoms are present. Clinical depression, even if it’s relatively mild, is noticeable. No matter how well you try to hide it, people will begin to notice a difference in your habits, demeanor, and even hygiene.
Doctors usually classify depression as clinical, or major depressive disorder, by characteristics outlined in the AMA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5):
Whether you’re concerned about yourself or someone else, look out for symptoms like:
- Depressed mood, almost all day, every day
- Extreme disinterest in hobbies or activities
- Persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
- Sleep disturbances. It can veer from either extreme of chronic insomnia or sleeping all the time.
- Lack of energy. Even when you do attempt to complete a task, it seems to take longer.
- Food and weight issues that can veer from decreased appetite and weight loss to overeating and weight gain.
- Mental fog and inability to focus or concentrate
- Persistent feelings of shame or guilt with no basis
- Fixation on thoughts of death or self-harm
- Moving, thinking, or acting more slowly than normal
Diagnosis of depression is evaluated on a scored scale of points for each instance of a symptom as well as the frequency and severity of the symptoms over time. The diagnostic validation tool most commonly used is the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ–8).
Although many people learn to manage depression and function on a somewhat normal level, at least for a while, the clinical depressive disorder will not go away without help.
The Risks of Not Getting Help
Even relatively mild depression can worsen if the cause and effects are not addressed. Those who are suffering from the severe, prolonged, or clinical depressive disorder are at great risk for self-harm, reckless behavior, and developing other disorders.
Not receiving treatment, whether it’s counseling, medication, or some combination of the two, affects relationships, school, and employment. It could also begin to affect your physical health. Untreated depression has been linked to stroke, heart attacks, and even cancer.
One major risk is self-medication, which can lead to alcohol use disorder (AUD) or substance use disorder (SUD). In fact, 32% of people diagnosed with a mood disorder like depression also struggle with AUD or SUD.
Men and women experience the risk factors and side-effects of untreated depression differently. Men exhibit more outward physical symptoms, such as anger and reckless behavior. Men are also less likely to tie physical symptoms like chronic pain to depression, and they’re less likely to seek treatment for depression than women.
Need Help Coping With Depression?
If you or someone you love is struggling with depression, there’s no shame in asking for help. Often, it’s just as close as a phone call away. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor, minister, or the public health services in your community.
Depression that’s related to substance use disorder can often be treated along with drug or alcohol rehabilitation services. There’s an option for outpatient or residential treatment for co-occurring conditions as well as 12-step programs like AA that provide help and peer-to-peer support.
If you or someone you love is struggling with depression, there is hope. Give us a call today.