1 in 10 Americans Depressed

Michael Craig Miller, M.D.

Senior Editor, Mental Health Publishing, Harvard Health Publishing

In time for National Depression Screening Day (October 7, 2010) and Mental Illness Awareness Week (October 3-9, 2010), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published survey data on depressed mood in the United States.

The report summarizes responses to a standardized questionnaire administered in 2006 and 2008. The researchers asked 235,067 adults about symptoms during the 2 weeks prior to receiving the call.

On average, 9% percent of respondents met the criteria for some type of depression. About one-third of those with depression had Major Depression, a relatively severe form. Regional variations were broad — the rate of depression in Mississippi was almost 15%, while the rate in North Dakota came in under 5%. The authors suggested that these differences might be explained by socioeconomic factors or variations in access to mental health care.

Broad population surveys are interesting and useful — the CDC report reflects an enormous amount of work. Still, the results are inevitably difficult to interpret. It’s worth following the link to read the details. Be sure to scroll down to the editorial note, where the authors describe some limitations of the survey. For example, telephone surveys don’t necessarily reach people who use mobile phones rather than landlines. And the survey also doesn’t capture people who are either homeless or living in institutions.

The survey, which appears online on the CDC website, is available to the public. You won’t need a degree in statistics to follow it, but it will give you a taste for the complexity of depression research.


  1. Anonymous

    Perhaps there are medication that contribute to being depressed? Lots of Americans are dependent on medication and this could affect their emotional state of being.

  2. Michael Craig Miller, M.D.
    Michael Craig Miller, M.D.

    I appreciate Abbie’s correcting the record — indeed there is no evidence that Americans were less depressed in the past. And — for those who do have health insurance — many programs pay for less than they did in the past.

    We may be more aware of numbers of people being depressed because people feel freer to talk about it and the methods for collecting data about depression are somewhat better.

    It is always a little sticky to label different kinds of depression — a subject for another time — but no matter how you define it, if you have symptoms of depression it is worth having it evaluated. It is sometimes hard work finding the treatment that matches you best, but many treatments do help.

  3. Abbie Kendall

    Andrew, your comment has no basis in fact.

    Robert, “situational depression” (a psychological condition) may be helped or eliminated by lifestyle changes such as exercise, better quality of sleep, etc. Or, it may be resolved by time passing, as in depression over the death of a loved one.

    However, Major Depressive Disorder is a brain disease and is not relieved or cured by lifestyle changes. And Treatment-resistant Major Depressive Disorder is currently incurable.

  4. Robert

    Too right Andrew. There is far too much reliance on anti depressants anyway as a first option and little emphasis on how lifestyle changes really can and do make a difference. Somebody who knows from personal experience is talking here.

  5. Andrew

    How is it that before the invention of expensive anti-depressants and the proliferation of health care benefits that pay for just about everything, American’s weren’t nearly as depressed?

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