Is A Depression Epidemic A Real Medical Event?

Updated August 28, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Debra Halseth, LCSW

If you’ve heard the term depression epidemic, you may have furrowed your brow and cocked your head. Can depression truly be an epidemic? When you think of an epidemic, you likely imagine a physical illness that spreads from person to person. How could a mental illness be used in conjunction with an epidemic? Isn’t depression a disease that can’t be transferred? It’s a question that has a lot of people wondering. Is it real? Is it medically or scientifically correct? Only facts will help to determine the answers to these questions.

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Qualities Of An Epidemic

According to the CDC, an epidemic is a rapid rise in the total instances of a particular disease. They also state that it may be transferred from person to person. This may remind you of the influenza epidemic or maybe even the Black Death. However, the disease can be spread in various ways, so other forms of disease might not be ruled out so quickly. The CDC identifies 4 patterns in which an epidemic can spread: common source, propagated, mixed, and others. Examining the meaning of each category may help to determine if a depression epidemic is a real, medical event.

Common Source

Common source is exactly as it sounds – all infected persons were subjected to the disease by the same cause. On a small scale, imagine a standard cold in a single-family home. An individual develops symptoms and gets the cold first. Then, all others in the household catch a cold from the same person. This is a simple way of describing a common source outbreak.

Propagated

A propagated epidemic is one that has spread directly from person to person. Imagine the germs of an infected person transferring to another person via a handshake. When the second person shakes hands with another person, spreading the germs to them as well, a propagated outbreak is being described. A line can often be traced from person to person, indicating where the disease originated from.

Mixed

A mixed outbreak is one that has spread in both common source and propagated ways. When the family from the above example leaves their home and is in direct contact with others, each individual has the potential to spread their illness to the people that they come into contact with. This is a common way to spread disease and often results in a vast number of ill individuals.

Other

There are other ways in which disease is spread. It doesn’t have to be from person to person or from a common source. Many illnesses can be airborne or from a different source altogether. Preventing this kind of outbreak is more challenging than others.

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Qualities Of Depression

When you think of depression, it’s unlikely that you think it possible to spread from person to person. Depression is a mental illness, so it can’t be caught by shaking hands with a depressed individual. Does this mean that the qualities of depression suggest it to be a disease that cannot be part of an epidemic? Exploring various parts of depression might make the answer clearer.

Depression As A Contagious Disease

As mentioned above, depression can’t necessarily be caught from a simple person to person interaction. That doesn’t mean, however, that depression can’t spread from person to person. When you spend a lot of time with someone, their depressed mood can certainly rub off on you. Think about how empathetic individuals cry when a friend cries. When someone is irritable, you, too, can begin feeling irritable. The same goes for depression in many cases.

This isn’t to say that sharing another person’s sadness makes you depressed. Depression is a mental illness that requires long-term sadness and various other symptoms to be diagnosed. Although you might start feeling depressed when spending time with someone that is in their own depressive state, you can’t be sure that you have the mental illness until several months have passed.

Depression Starts At A Young Age

The age in which depression is diagnosed is getting younger and younger over time. Young children can get depression and experience symptoms like clinginess, avoiding school, and faking illness. Although the age group that has the most depressive disorder diagnoses is late teens to early 20s, anyone can be affected. In many ways, this suggests that teens “catch” depression from their friends, but it can also mean that it’s a mental illness that can happen to anyone.

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Depression Can Drive People Away

A 2006 study shows that depression might not spread so much as drive people away. Although it may be disappointing, this is a result of oversharing negative feelings and problems with friends. This suggests that depression is not an epidemic in the traditional sense. However, the study could very well be out of date.

With recent movement in the mental health world to destroy the stigma of depression and other mental health issues, a similar study might show completely different results today. People tend to be far more caring about mental health and friends’ that experience a depressive episode than in the past. People with depression are no longer as alone as they once were. Has this kind of acceptance led to a depression epidemic?

What Is A Depression Epidemic?

You have likely gathered that a depression epidemic is a widespread occurrence of depression. Comparing depression to some of the components of an epidemic may bring forth the possibility that a depression epidemic is a real and concerning event. The factors that match up to current levels of depression to an epidemic include the following:

  • Increase in depression diagnoses
  • More suicides than in previous years
  • Boost in antidepressant use
  • Campaigns to normalize depression
  • People with depression knowing other people with depression
  • May be considered an “other” source of an epidemic

There are a number of factors that suggest that depression has become a true epidemic. Having said that, is it really considered a medical event? Or, is the depression epidemic simply a hip new term being used by people for over-diagnosing the mental illness?

Is A Depression Epidemic Real In The Medical World?

Depression is a very real and sometimes very scary mental illness accepted by medicine and science. The question remains, however, is a depression epidemic also medically accepted. In truth, this proposed question has medical professionals on opposite sides. Many believe that, yes, a depression epidemic is a medical event that must be stopped. Others, however, believe that the so-called epidemic is the result of over-diagnosing depression and over-prescribing antidepressants.

Recent years have proven that depression is more common. Many believe that the numbers haven’t changed so much as the acceptability. While individuals hid mental illness in the past, getting rid of the mental illness stigma may have encouraged patients to seek help as needed. It’s a difficult point to measure, as there are a lot of variables involved. Future studies and research may prove to help determine the existence of an epidemic or a normalization of the disease.

When you look at the facts, whether or not you side with those that believe in the epidemic or those that don’t, the truth is that a lot of people are suffering. Finding ways to help or to get help is what is important in this instance. Getting treatment for depression might help to stop an epidemic, but it can also help individuals.

Stopping Depression In Its Tracks

The treatment options for depression are many but generally boil down to just a few common choices. Some individuals can see the positive effects of a single treatment option, while others require multiple kinds. No matter what option you and your doctor decide upon, it is possible to find the treatment that works best for you.

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Many patients feel that therapy or counseling is the best and most effective option for depression. It can work for various forms of depression, whether the patient is experiencing a depressive episode at the time or not. A counselor aims to help patients get past the negativity in their heads and teach the mind to handle life a bit differently.

Others require medication in addition to therapy, and some prefer to take medication without regular sessions. This is a decision that should be made with a medical professional. Antidepressants can be incredibly effective in depleting the symptoms of depression. However, it’s important to remember that the depression will likely still be there if medication is stopped suddenly. Because of this, any changes to medicine use should be approved by a doctor first.

Depression can also be reduced with exercise, regular exposure to sunlight, and a healthy diet. Several other alternative methods have seen some positive feedback regarding depression. If you find yourself suffering from a depressive episode from time to time, seek help from a professional. You can improve your own mental health and possibly even inspire others to do the same. If a depression epidemic is a real medical event, you must first start with yourself before attempting to make a change in the disease’s reach.


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