March 19, 2001
Depression: a new world epidemic?
Alexandra Katsikis is an intern at the Carter Center
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by 2020, depression will become the worlds second most burdensome illness. But whether depression has reached epidemic proportions is subject to debate among mental health professionals.
The increasing public health debate of depression will be the focus of
a public forum, Has Depression Become a New Epidemic? to be
held April 19 at the Carter Center.
Speakers for the event will include Rosalynn Carter; Gregory Fricchione,
director of the centers Mental Health Program; J. Douglas Bremner,
a psychiatrist-researcher and assistant professor of psychiatry at the
Yale School of Medicine; William McDonald, director of the Fuqua Center
for Late-Life Depression at Wesley Woods; and Marc Safran, medical epidemiologist
and psychiatrist at the CDC.
Some striking statistics: According to WHO, the percentage of the total
global burden of disease attributable to mental illnesses will increase
from 11.5 percent to 15 percent by 2020. Approximately 7 percent of the
population suffers from mood disorders each year, and depression is among
the top 10 causes of worldwide disabilities, according to Fricchione.
The question is whether the incidence of depression has always been constant
and only now are previously unreported cases being recognized (as more
sophisticated surveys are available and more people seek treatment), or
whether the number of cases is actually increasing. According to Fricchione,
large numbers of major depression cases go unreported.
Individuals in families torn apart by violence or tragedies and
people who use drugs and alcohol are often depressed but are never actually
diagnosed as having a major depressive disorder, he said.
For example, people with drug addictions are reported as dying from a
recreational overdose rather than suicide due to major depression, which
is sometimes the case. If depressive disorders go untreated, major depression
may recur and, over time, dysthymia (a serious, chronic depression) can
Of all deaths by suicide, 2035 percent of those victims suffered
from a major depressive disorder, Fricchione said. Approximately
1015 percent of patients hospitalized with depression go on to commit
suicide. Every year, 500,000 emergency room visits are due to suicide
attempts, and suicide is the third-leading cause of death among young
adults and adolescents.
Fricchione added that incidences of depression among particular age groups
are increasing. Women between the ages of 18 and 45 comprise the
majority of those with major depression, he said.
People 65 and older have the highest suicide rate, which is directly
linked to depression, Fricchione said.
Fricchione believes that if the stigma associated with mental illness
is abolished, more people will seek treatment.
Celebrities and other well-known people who have emotional problems
can help reduce stigma by acknowledging their suffering from depression
and/or mental health problems, he said. The relentlessly negative
images employed by the media used to depict persons suffering from a mental
illness are a constant battle for those struggling with mental illnesses
and their families. Projecting a more balanced view will help reduce stigma
The government and third-party payers of health insurance need
to recognize that mental illnesses deserve to be covered on the same level
as other illnesses, Fricchione said. These steps will help
change public perceptions of mental health. As the surgeon general has
said, mental health is an essential part of general health.
The event will be held April 19 from 78:30 p.m. at the Carter Center.
General admission is $6; students are admitted free with ID. Reservations
are required. For more information, call 404-420-3804.