National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Depression: Gaps & Guideposts

Summary of Findings

Public Attitudes

  • Most people in the public sample -- 71 percent -- say that they do not know much about depression, but over two-thirds are aware of the consequences of not receiving care. 84 percent know that suicide is a risk.
  • Eighty percent or more recognize that depression is a medical illness affecting people of all ages, races and socioeconomic groups and that it can be treated. Sixty-two percent said they know at least some symptoms.
  • Ninety-one percent would want to know if a family member or friend was diagnosed with depression and 72 percent of people with the illness are willing to tell them.
  • At the same time, stigma endures. Almost 20 percent of the public consider the illness a sign of personal weakness and 23 percent would be embarrassed to tell others if a family member were diagnosed with depression.
  • Fifty-five percent of the public sample would be uncomfortable dating a person diagnosed with depression.

Age at Onset, Diagnosis & Early Treatment

Gaps exist between the times that symptoms of depression first appear, when they are actually diagnosed and when leading treatments, psychotherapy or counseling and/or medication are first received.

  • Thirty-four percent of people living with depression reported that first experienced symptoms of depression before age 18. Across the life span, the difference in discernment was a mean of 12 years.
  • Almost 20 percent of people living with depression reported being diagnosed before age 18. Almost 30 percent were diagnosed between the ages of 18-29 and 30 percent between the ages of 40-49.
  • Twenty-four percent of people living with depression reported that they first received psychotherapy or counseling before age 18; 21 percent between ages 19-29; and 18 percent between the ages of 30-39.
  • Fourteen percent reported first taking psychiatric medication before age 18; 24 percent between ages 18-29; and 23 percent between ages 30 - 39.

Treatment Strategies

  • Almost 60 percent of people living with depression rely on their primary care physicians for treatment rather than mental health professionals. This has implications for professional education, particularly in prescription and monitoring of medications.
  • Approximately two-thirds (67 percent) of people living with depression currently use psychiatric medication as their primary treatment compared to 16 percent who use psychotherapy or counseling as their primary treatment. However, two-thirds use psychotherapy and counseling overall.
  • One-third report they receive a "whole health" approach to care, but only eight percent receive a "family centered" approach.
  • Over one-third (35 percent) report being extremely or very satisfied with current treatment; however, a similar amount (33 percent) report dissatisfaction.
  • "Alternative" strategies are reported to be very helpful. These include prayer, physical exercise, animal therapy, art therapy and yoga. Although only about 20 percent of people living with depression have used animal therapy, 54 percent found it "extremely" or "quite a bit" helpful.
  • Five percent of people living with depression currently use nutritional or herbal remedies, but of the 27 percent who have tried them, only 8 percent have found them very helpful. However, this contrasts with 23 percent of the caregivers who believed they were helpful for the person in their care.