NAMI Advocate
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Depression: Gaps and Guideposts

A new major survey released by NAMI reveals gaps in Americans’ understanding of major depression. The timely release corresponded with Veterans Day and the announcement of the most recent United States unemployment rate at 10.2 percent, a 25-year high.

Survey respondents included members of the general public who do not know anyone living with depression, caregivers of adults diagnosed with depression and adults actually living with the illness. Their responses offer unique, three-dimensional insight into the general public’s understanding of the illness and how that measures up to the lived experience of those who are directly affected by major depression.

"The survey tells us what has been found helpful in treating depression," said NAMI Executive Director Michael J. Fitzpatrick. "It can help caregivers better anticipate stress that will confront them. It reflects issues that need to be part of ongoing health care reform."

While most Americans do not believe that they know much about major depression, the overwhelming majority does recognize it as a medical illness and understands that left untreated, it can lead to dire consequences, such as suicide. However, stigma still exists around the illness. Almost 20 percent of the public considers major depression a sign of personal weakness and 23 percent would be embarrassed to tell others if a family member were diagnosed with it.

These finding suggest that while the public is more familiar with depression than in years past, there is still a need for continued education efforts around mental illness. 

Persons living with depression shared their strategies for managing their illness: almost 60 percent  reported that they rely on their primary care physicians, rather than mental health professionals, for their treatment. Respondents noted that they use medication and "talk therapy" as their primary treatments, but often find other options compliment these efforts. A holistic approach typically works best and many reported using physical exercise, prayer, yoga and animal therapy to help manage their illness. 

"There are many treatment strategies," said NAMI Medical Director Ken Duckworth. "What often works is a combination of treatments that fit a person and his or her lifestyle."

The survey also found that people living with depression often stop taking their medication or using talk therapy due to financial cost, but others stop because they want to “make it on my own,” or they do not like the side effects of medication.

One striking finding notes that nearly 50 percent of caregivers who responded had been diagnosed with depression themselves, yet only 25 percent are engaged in treatment. Caregivers cited challenges such as not having enough time to take care of their own health and financial strains.

View the full survey results online.

Harris Interactive conducted the survey for NAMI on-line between Sept. 29 and Oct. 7, 2009. Participants included 1,015 persons who did not know anyone diagnosed with depression, 513 persons living with depression and 263 caregivers of a family member or significant other diagnosed with depression.

The survey was made possible with support from AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly & Co. and Wyeth. NAMI does not endorse or promote any specific medication, treatment, product or service.

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