Dangerous manifestations of melancholy have become a real “epidemic” in the modern world
In the United States – and in other countries of the world – the number of cases of depression is growing. According to a 2023 Gallup poll, nearly 18% of U.S. adults—more than 1 in 6—said they were currently depressed or receiving treatment for depression. In 2015, when Gallup first began collecting information on the topic, the number was less than 11%. Experts offer several steps that can help cope with depression.
Gallup data shows that clinical depression was spreading slowly in the United States before the pandemic, but has increased more rapidly since the onset of COVID-19, leading to social isolation, loneliness, fear of contagion, psychological exhaustion, substance abuse and disruptions in mental health care. Rates are rising fastest among women, youth, and black and Hispanic adults.
As CNN notes, for teenagers ages 12 to 17, the statistics are also dire: According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 million children in this age group — just over 20% — experienced an episode of major depression in 2021 (the most recent year on record), with 3.7 million experiencing severe distress.
Psychiatrist Charles Raison, a professor of human ecology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, acknowledged that he himself suffered from depression. Rison, who is also director of Vail Health's Behavioral Health Innovation Center and a former CNN Health mental health expert, summed up the state of mental health in the United States in one word: “bad.”
“There's simply no doubt about it. that depression, anxiety, suicide and substance abuse have been on the rise in the United States for probably 20, 25 years, maybe longer, – Rayson told CNN. – But they have really been growing over the last 10 years, and the data is really consistent.
“Growth is uneven among all age groups, – Rison said. – People who are truly suffering – these are young people. So, people aged approximately 15 to 35 years old – That's where you see this really alarming growth.”
While the rise in depression among Americans is alarming, what is also concerning is the difficulty of pinpointing the cause. We can't see it on brain scans. We don't have a blood test for this. We can't accurately measure severity, CNN notes.
Professor Rison compared depression to dropsy – this is an old-fashioned term for swelling which can be caused by various underlying conditions or factors. “It could be heart failure. It could be pneumonia. It could be cancer. There are different causes for these symptoms”, – he says.
“Will we ever find a test to diagnose depression? No, because depression is like dropsy… – he said, pointing out various possible root causes. – Depression – It's not the only thing that will respond to just one test.
And that may be one of the reasons why depression is so difficult to treat.
“The issue of the use of antidepressants, which are the first-line treatment for depression in the United States, is incredibly complex,”” said Rison, noting that they are “life savers for some people.”
“But as we have moved forward over the past 20 years, we have had to learn some very hard truths about antidepressants and their effectiveness, – the expert said. – The hard truth, and the most obvious one, is that they don't work nearly as well as we thought 30 years ago,” with an estimated only 30% of patients “getting a complete response.”
Rison admitted that trying to do anything when you're depressed – it's an uphill battle. He offered these five self-care tips.
First: The expert recommends making an appointment with a mental health professional.
“If you constantly feel depressed, if you have lost interest in life, if your sleep and appetite have changed, if you feel hopeless, if you have thoughts of harming yourself, these kinds of things – That's what depression is”, – states Rison. Seeking help is especially important if you've been experiencing these symptoms for a couple of months.
“All of us who struggle with depression know that seeing a doctor… can help you – either psychotherapy, or medications… or both, – he said.
Second: what is good for the body is also good for the brain.
“Really try to do what you would do for your physical health, – Rison said. – I often tell people, “Think about what you would do if you wanted to take care of your heart health, and do the same.” All of these are also antidepressants. So, control your body weight, eat healthy foods, get enough sleep, exercise, get sunlight.”
Third: Try to maintain close relationships with people.
“Tip #3 can sometimes be very difficult to follow when you are depressed. But that's probably the most important thing, which is to maximize our interpersonal connections with other people – Rison emphasizes. – Having caring, small, supportive relationships with other people is a big protective factor against depression. This is also a factor that can really help you overcome depression.
Fourth: Be persistent in seeking help.
“The way people, especially in the United States, respond to antidepressants tends to be very mixed, “ Rison said. – There is a small group of people who just start taking antidepressants, and they feel better within a couple of weeks, and… and the depression goes away, while others struggle with chronic depression.
Don't be afraid to move further. “We have long known, for example, that people who do not respond to several antidepressants in a row are less likely to respond to the next one, but they are no less likely to respond to psychotherapy,” CNN quotes an American expert.
Fifth: create a state of gratitude. “Work on developing a sense of gratitude”, – urges Rison.
He admits that doing this isn't always easy when you're depressed. “If you can make it a habit, it can be very effective in both preventing depression and making you feel better if you are depressed.“ he said.