Depression is on the rise in the United States, according to sobering new research from Columbia University and the City University of New York. Even more troubling, the study authors add that even as depression has increased, there hasn’t been an uptick in people seeking mental health help or treatment.

Study authors say that in 2020, nearly one in 10 Americans reported having depression over the prior 12 months. Almost one in five adolescents or young adults reported the same. The National Survey provided data used for this project on Drug Use and Health spanning 2015 through 2020.

That survey is a nationally representative poll of Americans aged 12 and older. Major depression is the most common mental disorder in the United States and is considered a vital risk factor for suicidal behavior. Increases in depression rates are hardly a new trend; depression in the U.S. population jumped from 6.6 percent in 2005 to 7.3 percent in 2015.

Lead study author Renee D. Goodwin, Ph.D., an adjunct professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and professor of Epidemiology at The City University of New York, said in a statement, “Our study updates the depression prevalence estimates for the U.S. population through the year 2020 and confirms escalating increases in depression from 2015 through 2019, reflecting a public health crisis that was intensifying in the U.S. even before the onset of the pandemic. The net effect of these trends suggests an accelerating public health crisis and that parity and public-service announcement efforts have not achieved equity in depression treatment.”

Regarding 2020, nine percent of Americans aged 12 or older reported experiencing a past-year major depressive episode. However, the condition was deemed most common among young adults (ages 18-25) and adolescents aged 12 to 17. Both age groups exhibited depression rates right around the 17 percent mark.

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Meanwhile, depression increased the fastest among adolescents and young adults and ballooned across close to all gender, racial/ethnic, income, and education groups. Interestingly, however, the prevalence of the condition did not change for adults over 35. All in all, and perhaps most importantly, rates of people seeking help stayed consistently low.

“Our results showed most adolescents with depression neither told or talked with a healthcare professional about depression symptoms nor received pharmacologic treatment from 2015 through 2020,” Prof. Goodwin notes. Non-Hispanic white individuals displayed the highest prevalence of depression, exceeding all other race/ethnic groups.

It was also more common among women and adults who weren’t currently or previously married. Even across income brackets, depression levels increased across the board between 2015 and 2019. That being said, those with the lowest household income did have the highest prevalence of depression.

The short- and long-term consequences of the pandemic on depression are not yet clear, but these estimates are a requisite starting point for quantifying the mental health impact of the pandemic. Expanding evidence-based, community-based, public-facing campaigns that promote help-seeking, early intervention, prevention, and education about depression are urgently needed.

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