Health Watch -- Impact of Depression

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Depression may have an even bigger impact than we thought.

Depression can totally take over a person's life, making work and family life next to impossible. A new study has found that depression also has a major impact nationwide, with more people suffering than we thought, suffering more severely than we thought and with far more economic damage than we thought.The study involved in-person interviews with more than 9,000 adults across the country. As a result of this study, researchers determined that more than 16 percent of Americans will suffer from major depression at some point in their lives. That adds up to about 34 million Americans.

That many people struggling with depression can have a huge impact on the economy. People with depression may miss work, or they may be less productive while they're at work. Bouts of depression also generally last longer than other illnesses that can affect productivity, but most company medical plans don't offer mental health benefits that are equivalent to other health benefits. Because of this, depressed workers often don't receive the treatment they need.

Dr. John Rush, a psychiatrist at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas who was one of the study's authors, says the episodes of depression chronicled by the study were more than just a case of the blues. They were moderate to severe, causing an average of 35 days of disability per year. This has a major economic impact and raises some policy questions.

One thing the study found was that more than 9 percent of the U.S. workforce has some kind of depression during any given two-week period. Depression is more common in women, so in businesses with more female employees, an even greater percentage is likely to be affected.

The study also found that anxiety disorders like panic attacks or post-traumatic stress tend to precede problems with depression and that people born more recently were more likely to suffer depression earlier in their lives. Dr. John Rush, a psychiatrist at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas who was one of the study authors, said the reasons for that are still a mystery that needs investigating. Is it the environment these people have grown up in, or is it something to do with the lifestyle of this generation?

Researchers say these study results show that depression is something policymakers and healthcare providers need to take a good look at. Changes may be needed to get people the understanding and treatment they need and to reduce the impact of depression.