Questions for Debra J. Brody, M.P.H., and Laura Pratt, Ph.D., Epidemiologists and Lead Authors of “Prevalence of Depression Among Adults Aged 20 and Over: United States, 2013–2016”
Q: What made you decide to focus on the prevalence of depression for the subject of your new report?
DB/LP: Our intent in conducting this study was to provide up-to-date prevalence estimates for depression—a common and serious medical condition that can result in both emotional and physical problems. We focused on U.S. adults 20 and older to determine if there have been any changes in the proportion of adults with depression over the past 10 years. The estimates are based on responses to a series of depression symptom questions asked during the examination portion of the 2013-2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a nationally representative study.
Q: Was there a result in your study that you hadn’t expected and that really surprised you?
DB/LP: The finding that most surprised us was that among adults who are depressed, four out of five, or 80%, have at least some difficulty going to work, doing their regular activities at home, or getting along with people. What was perhaps most striking was to see that impairment due to depression affected both men and women equally—given that the prevalence of depression among men (5.5%) was almost half of what it is among women (10.4%).
Q: What differences or similarities did you see among race and ethnic groups, and various demographics, in this analysis?
DB/LP: We found one notable difference in depression among race and ethnic groups in the 2013-2016 NHANES data. The prevalence of depression in the non-Hispanic Asian subgroup (3.1%) of adults was significantly lower than depression among adults from the three other race-ethnic groups that we examined (non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, and Hispanic.) We would like to acknowledge that the estimate for non-Hispanic Asian adults is for persons self-identified as belonging to any Asian origin subgroup. In our study, adults of Chinese, Indian, Filipino, and every other Asian-origin are all grouped together because we do not have the sample sizes to show the prevalence for separate Asian origin groups. Other studies have found lower and more moderate estimates of depression among Asian adults compared with those from other race and ethnic groups.
Q: How has the prevalence of depression changed in the past 10 years?
DB/LP: Our data show that over the past 10 years, the percentage of adults who have depression has stayed relatively stable. A point to consider is that the NHANES surveys do not include persons in the military, or those living in institutions like hospitals or nursing homes where adults may be at higher risk for depression. In addition, we did not include in our analysis persons currently being treated for depression or taking medications, unless they screened positively for depression in our survey.
Q: What is the take-home message of this report?
DB/LP: We think the real take-home message of this study is the seriousness of depression, a common mental disorder—and how emotional and physical problems that are symptoms of depression impact the everyday life of those affected by depression. We found that overall, about one out of every 12 U.S. adults have depression in any given 2-week period. Depression rates are higher in some population subgroups—like among women as compared to men—and among adults from low income families as compared to those from higher incomes. Among U.S adults who have depression, managing daily activities—at work and at home—poses at least some difficulty.