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Facts for Policymakers: Treatable Causes of Disability

Depression in Older Persons

  • Depression in its many forms affects more than 6.5 million of the 35 million Americans who are 65 years old or older. Most older people with depression have been suffering from episodes of the illness during much of their lives.   

Depression Screening is a Priority

  • The Institute of Medicine in 2002 recently identified screening and treatment of major depression as a major national health care priority.
  • The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force in 2002 formally recommended that doctors screen for depression.
  • Older persons with depression rarely seek treatment for the illness.
  • The highest rate of suicide in the U.S. is among older white men. Depression is the single most significant risk factor for suicide in that population. Tragically, many of those people who go on to commit suicide have sought help -- 20 percent see a doctor the day they die.
  • Once diagnosed, 80 percent of clinically depressed individuals, including older persons, can be effectively treated by medication and psychotherapy.


Pregnancy and Depression

  • Although it once was thought that women experienced low rates of mental illness during pregnancy, recent research reveals that over 10 percent of pregnant women and approximately 15 percent of postpartum women experience depression.

  • As many as 80 percent of women experience the "postpartum blues," a brief period of mood symptoms that is considered normal following childbirth. However, the related hormonal and biological changes associated with pregnancy or giving birth may initiate a clinical depression.
  • Also, the changes in lifestyle associated with caring for a young infant may constitute a set of stressors that have mental health consequences for the mother.

Potential Recurrence

Once a woman has experienced a postpartum depression, her risk of having another depressive episode reaches 70 percent.

  • There is a three-fold increase in risk for depression during or following a pregnancy among women with a history of depressive and bipolar disorders.

  • Once a woman has experienced a postpartum depression, her risk of having another depressive episode reaches 70 percent.


Dysthymic Disorder

  • Symptoms of dysthymic disorder (chronic, mild depression) must persist for at least two years in adults (1 year in children) to meet criteria for the diagnosis. Dysthymic disorder affects approximately 5.4 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older during their lifetime. This figure translates to about 11 million American adults.
  • Dysthymic disorder often begins in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood.

Next Page: Bipolar Disorder

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