Study shows an increase in depression cases between 2015 and 2020

In a recent study published in American Journal of Preventive MedicineIn the study, researchers explored depression prevalence trends from 2015 to 2020.

Study: Trends in the prevalence of depression in the United States from 2015 to 2020: a widening treatment gap.  Image Credit: Mary Long/Shutterstock
Stady: Trends in the prevalence of depression in the United States from 2015 to 2020: a widening treatment gap. Image Credit: Mary Long/Shutterstock

The most prevalent mental illness in the United States is major depression, which also carries the highest risk of suicidal behavior. According to early reports from 2020 and beyond, the Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic may have contributed to the exacerbation of the mental health problem in the country, particularly among adolescents and young adults. To assess and ultimately effectively address the effects of the pandemic on mental health, accurate national pre-pandemic assessments are essential.

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In this study, researchers calculated the annual prevalence of major depression over the past 12 months among Americans aged 12 or older between 2015 and 2020.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) provided the data for the study. The NSDUH provides annual national cross-sectional data on substance use and mental health in US datasets from each year between 2015 and 2019. To account for non-response at the individual level, person-level analysis sample weights were calculated and then adjusted to ensure consistency with population estimates from the Census Bureau American. The original weight was divided by the total number of data sets to obtain a new weight.

Based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-IV criteria, questions to measure major depressive episodes (MDEs) for adults and adolescents aged 12 to 17 years were addressed. For respondents aged over 18 years, depression units were adapted from the National Survey of Adolescent Comorbidities – Replication, while those for respondents aged 12-17 years were adapted from the National Adolescent Comorbidities Survey.

Based on reporting five or more of the nine symptoms of MDE, including either depressed mood, loss of interest, or enjoyment of daily activities over a two-week period, adult and adolescent responders were classified as having lifelong MDE. Those who met the lifetime MDE requirement and reported feeling depressed or losing interest in daily activities along with other symptoms for at least 2 weeks in the past 12 months were also classified as having had MDE in the past year. Adolescent and adult factors were combined to form the last year MDE variant for this investigation.

Two questions were used to measure help-seeking behavior for depression in the past year. In addition to inquiring whether they had received a prescription for their MDE symptoms in the past 12 months, respondents were also asked if they had recently consulted or spoken with a physician (MD) or other specialist about their symptoms.


After controlling for sociodemographic factors, the prevalence of recent depression increased from 7.3% in 2015 to 8.6% in 2019, and this monotonous increase continued from 2015 to 2019. In 2020, 9.2% of people had depression in the previous year.

Disaggregating the population by age, the highest prevalence of depression during the study period was found among adolescents aged 12-17 years and young adults aged 18-25 years. The prevalence of depression increased from 12.7% in 2015 to 15.8% in 2019. And 16.9% in 2020 among adolescents. Moreover, the number of depressed patients increased from 10.3% in 2015 to 15.5% in 2019 and 17.2% in 2020 in adults aged 18-25. Moreover, depression was reported to be 7.5% in 2015, 10.9% in 2019, and 9.9%. in 2020 by adults between the ages of 26 and 34. The prevalence of depression was higher among women than among men. Depression increased from 4.7% in 2015 to 6.3% in 2019 and 6.4% in 2020. Moreover, 9.7% in 2015, 10.8% in 2018, and 11.8% in 2020 of women reported depression.

When categorized by marital status, people who were neither currently nor previously married were more likely to have depression. For individuals who have never married, there was an increase in depression between 2015 and 2019 in the unadjusted models. Either in the unadjusted or adjusted models, those who were married, as well as those who were widowed, divorced, or separated, did not experience an increase in depression. In terms of income, people with the lowest household income had the most frequent depression, while those with the highest household income had the lowest prevalence of depression.

When education is taken into account, those with some degree of college education had a higher frequency of depression than all other education subgroups. In individuals who completed high school, had some college education, or earned a college degree, the prevalence of depression increased from 2015 to 2019. In both the unadjusted and adjusted studies, the rate of depression did not change among people who did not graduate from high school between 2015 and 2019.

Overall, the study results showed a clear rise in treated depression and, most importantly, untreated depression. The researchers believe it is necessary to expand evidence-based initiatives that support early intervention, prevention, and education about depression.

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