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Commentary: The US Rise in Depression and Suicides

The National Suicide Prevention hotline recently launched a three-digit emergency hotline (988) to address the increasing suicide rates in the United States in recent years.

Disruptions in the world as we have known it present a myriad of challenges for individuals. COVID, blistering inflation, global instability, climate change, and political uncertainty threaten the stability of our lives and our peace of mind. One of the most common mental disorders in our country, and one we treat repeatedly in the clinical setting, is depression.

The most recent data indicates that rates of depression in 2020 were 8.4% of the adult population in the U.S. For adolescents in 2020, the rate of depression was more than double that number, rounding out at a whopping 17% of kids between 12 and 17. With the vast social changes we have experienced in recent years, feelings of sadness and grief are normal and even healthy responses for people. What if you or someone you know is experiencing something more than sadness? How do you know if the situation will be resolved on its own or something that needs treatment? And for parents of adolescents, when is it appropriate to seek out treatment for your child?

Sadness is contextual, meaning it is a response to an individual’s situation or environment, and it is temporary. Sadness is normal, it is a sign of emotional health, and it requires no treatment.

Depression, unlike sadness, can be debilitating for an individual for a prolonged period of time. Major Depressive Disorder is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as a mood disorder that also impacts physical and social functioning. A diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder requires symptoms to be present for at least a 2-week period. Untreated, depression can linger for months or even years.

Depression has a variety of components that impact functioning. Many individuals seek out treatment with an initial complaint of physical symptoms associated with depression. The most common physiological complaints include sleep and appetite disruptions. Even more confusing, depression can cause a person to sleep much more or much less than normal. Likewise, appetite changes can go in either direction. Another chief physical complaint is a lack of energy and accompanying motivation. This lack of energy is one of the primary contributors to depression’s staying power. Without the desire to get moving, which is necessary in combatting depression, individuals often get stuck in a cycle of inactivity which increases depressive symptoms.

Depression is classified primarily as a mood disorder, which means it impacts how a person feels. Individuals with depression report high levels of sadness, but also feelings of hopelessness, guilt, and loneliness. These feelings have a profoundly negative impact upon a person’s life.

A person with depression loses the ability to find pleasure in things they once enjoyed. Their thinking becomes highly negative, or even catastrophic, without cause. The experience can be debilitating and frightening. Depression’s impact quickly bleeds into relationships with others and leads to loneliness, isolation, and a lack of intimacy.

Depression is not a death sentence and can be effectively treated, but it rarely resolves on its own. Treatment options have increased over the years. Today’s consumers have a variety of therapeutic solutions available. Psychiatrists will often treat depression with a class of drugs known as anti-depressants. There is sufficient evidence that these medications are moderately effective. Psychologists and psychotherapists can also treat depression by using various forms of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Working with a skilled clinician is essential to ensure positive treatment outcomes. Good doctors and good therapists get good results.

When the depression rates were mounting in 2020, approximately 40% of adults and 60% of adolescents with depression went without mental health services. These statistics equate to a staggering number of people in our society suffering silently from depression. These statistics might include you or someone you love.

Parents of children who are struggling may feel overwhelmed trying to determine if their child needs medication or therapy. A good first step for someone who is uncertain is to reach out to a therapist or psychiatrist and set up an initial appointment. Some therapists offer free consultations to help a potential patient determine whether therapy, or the therapist, is a good fit.

Depression is a treatable condition and one that deserves our attention and resources.


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