Millennials and adolescents at forefront of surge in major depression

by Leo Almazora14 May 2018

New research released by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), a federation of health insurance organizations and companies in the US, suggests that mental illness is on the rise.

The organization’s new Health of America Report, which is based on medical claims data from the Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) Health Index, found a diagnosis rate of 4.4% for major depression among BCBS members. In addition, diagnoses of major depression surged by 33% from 2013 through 2016, with the most pronounced increases seen among adolescents (63%) and millennials (47%).

“Major depression diagnoses are growing quickly, especially for adolescents and millennials,” said Trent Haywood, senior vice president and chief medical officer for BCBSA. “The high rates for adolescents and millennials could have a substantial health impact for decades to come. Further education and research is needed to identify methods for both physicians and patients to effectively treat major depression and begin a path to recovery and better overall health.”

The study also found a correlation between major depression diagnoses and poor health, with those diagnosed for the condition being nearly 30% less healthy on average than those who weren’t. Some 85% of people who were diagnosed also had at least one other serious chronic health condition; among this cohort, nearly 30% had at least four other health conditions. In addition, individuals who were judged to have depression spent around US$10,673, as opposed to US$4,283 among those not diagnosed.

One expert suggests a relationship between the increased rates of depression among adolescents and higher electronics use and sleep disruption among already vulnerable individuals. “Increased use of electronics, video games more commonly in boys and social media/texting more commonly in girls, can lead to increased conflict both within the home and with peers,” said Dr. Karyn Horowitz, a psychiatrist affiliated with Emma Pendleton Bradley Hospital in Rhode Island.

According to Haywood, preliminary literature associates higher rates of social isolation with increased use of social media. “It is important to further explore this relationship,” he said.


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