Depression is more widespread than ever in the United States, according to a new report from Gallup.
About 18% of adults – more than 1 in 6 – say they are depressed or receiving treatment for depression, a jump of more than 7 percentage points since 2015, when Gallup first started polling on the topic.
Nearly 3 in 10 adults have been clinically diagnosed with depression at some point in their lifetime, according to the survey, which is also a record high.
The Covid-19 pandemic took an undeniable toll on mental health. Rates of clinical depression had been rising steadily in the US but “jumped notably” in recent years, the Gallup data shows.
“The fact that Americans are more depressed and struggling after this time of incredible stress and isolation is perhaps not surprising,” said Dr. Rebecca Brendel, president of the American Psychiatric Association, which was not involved in the new research. “There are lingering effects on our health, especially our mental health, from the past three years that disrupted everything we knew.”
But experts say that awareness around mental health has grown, which could lead to higher rates of diagnoses – and that’s not a bad thing.
“We’re making it easier to talk about mental health and looking at it as part of our overall wellness just like physical health,” Brendel said. “People are aware of depression, and people are seeking help for it.”
Younger generations seem especially willing to open up about mental health struggles, she said. But the Covid-19 pandemic also disrupted pivotal periods of growth for young adults, which could have left them more susceptible to the drivers of depression.
According to the Gallup poll, young adults reported higher rates of depression than any other age group and the greatest increase in recent years. Nearly a quarter of adults under 30 say they are currently depressed.
Lifetime rates of clinical depression are significantly higher among women, with rates rising twice as fast as in men. More than a third of women said they had been diagnosed with depression at some point in their life, compared with about a fifth of men, according to the survey.
Also, for the first time, lifetime rates of clinical depression among Black and Hispanic adults matched or surpassed the rate among White adults.
“Depression has many different presentations. The connection to cultural norms and belief systems is something that APA and others have been paying a lot more attention to in recent years,” Brendel said.
Recent updates to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the formal guide for clinical assessment of mental health conditions, included a Cultural Formulation Interview to help keep individual experiences at the forefront.
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But as the demand for mental health services rises, the US faces a critical shortage of providers. The US needs more than 8,000 mental health practitioners to fill gaps, according to data from the Health Resources & Services Administration.
There are a wide range of treatment options, including support from primary care physicians and workplace benefits.
“Depression is treatable,” Brendel said. “The earlier that we seek help, the more effectively and more rapidly it can help get us back on track.”