The number of people diagnosed every year with depression reveals a mental-health crisis of epidemic proportions. The subjective nature of diagnosing depression may be impacting the problem.
Depression by the numbers
During the 1950s if you wanted to track the number of people who were disabled from a mental health disorder you counted the population that resided in state mental hospitals. Today you count the number of social security disability checks that are received due to a mental illness. Robert Whitaker tracks the shocking rise of mental illness in his fascinating book Anatomy Of An Epidemic. According to Whitaker, in 1955 there were just over 38,000 people hospitalized in state mental hospitals due to depression. Today, major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability for people ages fifteen to forty-five in the United States. According to NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) depression affects 15 million adults. Of those diagnosed, 58% or nine million people, are “severely impaired”, and considered disabled by depression.
The increased number of people (including children) diagnosed with depression in the past few decades, makes me think that depression has reached epidemic proportions. Some people believe that depression is diagnosed more frequently today because health care professionals have become better at recognizing the symptoms. I agree that health care professionals continue to make improvements in diagnosing mental health problems. However, the clinical threshold for diagnosing depression, as well as other mental health conditions, is arguably subjective at best. For example, why is the clinical threshold for depression defined by two weeks? What if you are sad for five weeks, or only ten days? Is the person who is sad, officially mentally ill on day 14 ? More importantly, what if “sadness” follows a job loss, home foreclosure, or the loss of a pet? Is the sad person who just lost their job, and feeling depressed, experiencing a normal reaction following a difficult time in their lives? Have you been sad for two weeks following a hardship? I have. Are we all depressed? I think it is important that we view ourselves and one another from a strengths perspective and not an illness perspective. The implications of mis-diagnosing or over diagnosing starts us down a path with serious health implications including wrong treatment for the times in our lives that we are perhaps most vulnerable.
The intention of this blog is to share general personal ideas or comments that relate to everyday personal and interpersonal challenges. It is not intended as a substitute for mental-health counseling, including individual, couples, family, or group counseling. Readers should not rely on any part of the content of this blog as a substitute for professional counseling. If the reader needs professional counseling advice they should seek the services of a licensed professional, and only rely upon the advice of a licensed professional with whom the reader has a professional relationship. Further, any comments or postings made by others do not constitute my opinion, and such opinions may vary from my own.