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Depression: Gaps & Guideposts

Highlights & Comments

While many Americans do not believe they know much about depression, they are highly aware of the risks of not receiving care, according to a survey conducted on behalf of NAMI by Harris Interactive Inc. released in November 2009.

The survey provides a "three dimensional" measurement of responses from members of the general public who have never known anyone living with depression, caregivers and individuals who actually live with the illness.

Major depression is a serious medical illness involving the brain. It affects 15 million American adults, or approximately 5-8 percent of the adult population in any given year. Unlike normal emotional experiences of sadness, loss or passing mood states, major depression is persistent. It interferes with an individual's thoughts, behavior, mood, activity and physical health.

There is no single cause for the illness. Psychological, biological and environmental factors may all contribute to its development. Life events, such as the death of a loved one, a major loss or change, chronic stress and alcohol and drug abuse, may trigger episodes of depression. Some illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer, and some medications also trigger episodes. However, it is important to note that many depressive episodes can and do occur spontaneously and are not triggered by a life crisis, physical illness or other risks.

  • Scientists have found evidence of a genetic predisposition to major depression. One striking finding from the survey is that almost 50 percent of caregivers in the survey, who may be parents and siblings, have also been diagnosed with depression, although only 25 percent were engaged in treatment at the time.

No one is immune from depression and the survey provides "guideposts" for individuals and families who confront the illness for the first time-helping them to learn from the experiences of others. It also reveals the need for greater public education.

The survey's release coincides with Veteran's Day 2009 and comes a few days after the release of the nation's latest unemployment rate (10.2 percent)-the highest level in more than 25 years. It also coincides with Congressional debate over national health care reform. Its findings are relevant to veterans, active duty soldiers and their families and people in economic distress. It identifies needs and concerns relevant to health care reform at all levels.

The survey produced a wealth of information that to be considered over time. There were some surprises.

Highlights and some comments follow. For more careful examination, please refer to the Harris Interactive presentation of findings.

Overview | Summary of Findings | Summary of Findings Pt. 2 | Methodology and Acknowledgements