Giving Compass’ Take:
• According to a new study, many more Americans experience major depressive episodes than researchers previously thought.
• What might be some underlying reasons for these higher estimates? How can donors help address these mental health issues?
• Learn more about major depressive disorder and what philanthropy can do.
National survey data currently shows that approximately 17% of women and 10% of men report having a history of major depressive episodes (MDEs) in their lifetimes. But these data are subject to “recall error,” or the tendency of people to forget or misreport their health histories when taking a survey.
Researchers led by Jamie Tam, an assistant professor in the health policy and management department at the Yale University School of Public Health, created a simulation model to generate corrected estimates of lifetime depression.
They found that the proportion of US adults who have had MDEs is actually closer to 30% of women and 17% of men after factoring in recall error.
“Major depressive episodes are far more common than we thought,” says Tam. “Our model shows that the probability of someone having a first major depressive episode is especially high during adolescence. We also know from other research that having a first major depressive episode increases the likelihood you’ll have a second one. This means that anything we can do to prevent or treat episodes among young people could lead to larger health benefits over the course of their life.”
A major depressive episode is defined as a period of two weeks or longer in which a person experiences feelings of intense sadness and hopelessness, fatigue, weight gain or weight loss, changes in sleeping habits, loss of interest in activities, and thoughts of suicide or attempts at suicide. These persistent symptoms cannot be easily changed, even if they are contradictory to a person’s circumstances. Depressive episodes typically recur periodically in people diagnosed with major depression.
The researchers also found that older adults are especially likely to under-report their history of having depressive symptoms. Among adults 65 years and older, underreporting for depression was as high as 70%. Older adults often experience what is referred to as “minor depression,” where they still report significant depressive symptoms but don’t always meet clinical requirements for major depression.
Read the full article about major depressive episodes in the United States at Futurity.
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