Depression Common Among Baby Boomers

Women are also at higher risk than men, survey finds

MONDAY, Oct. 3, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Depression remains common in the United States, and a new survey shows it's hitting Americans in the "prime of life" particularly hard.

"The highest prevalences were in those who were middle-aged," said lead researcher Deborah Hasin, a professor of clinical psychiatry and public health at Columbia University. "This is the first study to show that depression is an effect specific to this age group -- the baby boomers."

"There may have been some specific factors that affected this age group in particular, that caused an excess of major depression compared with younger and older groups," Hasin said. "What that might be is a topic for further investigation."

Risks for depression were also higher for women vs. men, for separated or divorced people compared to married individuals, and for Native Americans and the poor. Minorities such as Asians, Hispanics and blacks were at less risk for depression than whites, the researchers report.

The report appears in the October issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

"Major depression is a prevalent disorder," said Hasin. "It is associated with a lot of disability."

Hasin and her colleagues surveyed more than 43,000 U.S. adults aged 18 and older. They found that 5.3 percent of those surveyed had depression within the past year, while 13.2 percent had experienced depression within their lifetime.

In addition, women were more likely to receive treatment than men. Both current and lifetime depression were significantly associated with substance dependence, panic and generalized anxiety disorder, and personality disorders, according to the report.

There was a strong relationship between depression and drug dependence, but less of a relationship between depression and drug abuse, Hasin said.

There is ongoing debate among psychiatrists as to the exact distinctions between drug abuse and drug dependence. The current definition of drug abuse is any pattern of substance use that results in repeated adverse social consequences, such as failure to meet work, family or school obligations, interpersonal conflicts or legal problems.

Drug dependence, commonly known as addiction, is characterized by physiological and behavioral symptoms related to substance use. Symptoms of drug dependence include the need for increasing amounts of the drug to maintain desired effects, withdrawal if drug-taking stops and an inordinate amount of time spent in activities related to drug use.

"Clinicians who are treating people with substance disorders need to be clear whether the people have abuse or dependence," she added. "If they have dependence, be especially watchful for major depression."

One expert notes that depression remains a significant problem throughout society.

Although there is a significant increase in the onset of depression in middle age, depression is also widespread among older and younger people, said Myrna M. Weissman, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University.

"Depression is a disorder that begins in young people," Weissman said.

Another expert believes that the findings are important in describing the state of depression in the United States.

"This is critically important work showing, once again, that depression is a major public health problem in this country, and that women are particularly at risk for this disabling disorder," said Carolyn M. Mazure, a professor of psychiatry and director of Women's Health Research at Yale University.

It is also a reminder that depression can be accompanied by substance abuse and anxiety disorders, all of which require attention, Mazure said. Unfortunately, for many, treatment isn't always available or affordable, she added. "Despite the magnitude of this problem and the fact that effective treatments are available, women as well as men who seek treatment often cannot avail themselves of definitive care in this era of reduced support for psychiatric treatment and social services," she said.

More information

The National Institute of Mental Health can tell you more about depression.

SOURCES: Deborah Hasin, Ph.D., professor, clinical psychiatry and public health, Columbia University, New York City; Myrna M. Weissman, Ph.D., professor, psychiatry, Columbia University, New York City; Carolyn M. Mazure, Ph.D., professor, psychiatry, and director, Women's Health Research, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.; October 2005 Archives of General Psychiatry
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