Major depression diagnoses appear to be rising rapidly in the United States, a new report suggests.
The report by Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, a leading American health insurer, says diagnosis rates jumped 33 percent among the 41 million people it represents between 2013 and 2016.
Of great concern is that the rate is rising even faster among younger members of the population – adolescents (47 percent for boys and 65 percent for girls) and millennials (47 percent).
"This health condition has many implications for the future healthcare needs for these younger Americans," the report says. "Higher rates of major depression can translate to increased utilization of healthcare services, leading to more than twice the amount of healthcare costs than for those without depression."
Among the other findings: Women are diagnosed with major depression at higher rates than men – 6 percent and nearly 3 percent, respectively; and people diagnosed with major depression are nearly 30 percent less healthy on average than those not diagnosed with major depression – a situation which is estimated to translate to nearly 10 years of healthy life lost for both men and women.
People diagnosed with major depression are also twice as likely to suffer from one or more other chronic diseases, three times as likely to suffer from pain-related disorders and injuries, and seven times as likely to suffer from alcohol or substance use disorders than people who do not have major depression.
"Americans often utilize several healthcare services to manage their health needs," Blue Cross Blue Shield notes. "When comparing those who do have a major depression diagnosis to those without in 2016, people with major depression have significantly higher utilization rates of healthcare services."
As a result, the cost of treating commercially insured Americans diagnosed with depression is more than double that of those without such a diagnosis due to the additional chronic conditions.
Some analysts question whether the figures represent an actual increase in cases or reflect better detection.
In 2016, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended general practitioners implement universal depression screenings for everyone over the age of 12, even those who don't consider themselves depressed, Quartz notes in a story on the report. "That means that far more people are being evaluated today for signs of depression than ever before," it said.
More research needed
The directive, as well as less stigma attached to mental illness, may have had an impact on increased rates, the website quoted Steve Hyman, director of the Stanley Center for psychiatric research at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, as saying. "More celebrities have gone public about mental health issues, and my impression is that there is more news coverage," he said.
Blue Cross Blue Shield describes major depression as the second most impactful health condition for the US but adds the situation is complicated by the increased likelihood of overlapping diagnoses of those other chronic, behavioral health and pain-related conditions.
"Further education and research are needed to identify methods for physicians to effectively treat major depression and for patients to begin a path to recovery and better overall health," it concludes.