DEPRESSION TREATMENT INCREASING
New Study Says Depression Really Is Increasing in America
And unfortunately, some people may not even realize what they’re suffering from.
These days, it’s not as stigmatized as it once was to talk about seeing a therapist or taking antidepressants. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that one in ten Americans will experience depression this year, and women face the illness at double the rate of men.
While previous studies have shown that more people are seeking treatment for depression, it’s usually attributed in a positive way—depression isn’t increasing, it’s just that more people are finally getting the help they’ve always needed. But a new study published in the journal Social Indicators Research shows a very different picture.
Americans aren’t just getting more diagnoses and filling more prescriptions, discovered lead study author Jean Twenge, San Diego State University psychology professor and author of Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable than Ever Before. Young people are actually reporting more depressive symptoms than adolescents of the same age in previous generations. And the really strange part? They may not even be identifying those symptoms as depression.
For her research, Twenge compared results from multiple long-term surveys of Americans. First up, she looked at the Monitoring the Future survey, which has collected data on a nationally representative sample of high-school seniors every year since 1976. She analyzed students’ reporting of their health symptoms, comparing the results from 1982-1984 with those from 2010-2012. She found that young people today are reporting many more somatic symptoms of depression and mental illness.
What is a somatic symptom of depression? The results showed a 73 percent increase in trouble sleeping six or more days a month and a 260 percent increase in trouble sleeping 20 or more days a month. The reports of shortness of breath have gone up 64 percent. There was a 38 percent increase in students having difficulty remembering something in the last month, and 250 percent increase in having trouble thinking clearly on 20 or more days a month. Yikes.
Aside from comparing those numbers, Twenge also examined results from the American Freshmen Project, a survey of 200,000 incoming university freshmen, which has been conducted every year since 1966. Comparing the scores from 1985-1989 and 2010-2013, she noticed a 50 percent increase in students who say they feel “overwhelmed by all I had to do,” and 24 percent more people felt they were “below average in emotional health.” But when asked if they felt depressed, there was actually a 22 percent decrease in responses.
In case you think she was only checking out surveys of moody teenagers, Twenge also looked at a survey of adults over age 19 between 1988 and 2000. Similarly, it was the somatic symptoms of mental illness that increased the most, including poor appetite, difficulty concentrating, and feeling like everything was an effort.
So what do all these numbers suggest? Twenge concluded that American teens and adults are experiencing more somatic symptoms of depression than ever before. As much as the stigma has dropped away, people still seem to have a hard time acknowledging they’re “depressed,” even when they can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t breathe, and can’t concentrate. If you’re feeling like things aren’t quite right, talk to a doctor, counselor, friend, or family member to help determine if your symptoms may be more than just occasional stress.