Every new generation asks broadly similar questions about the nature of what they see as odd or abnormal behavior. A few will be fortunate and will be schooled in the meaning of mental illness. They at least have a platform of understanding upon which to build their subsequent values. Many others aren’t so lucky. They use the same destructive, undermining, unhelpful language I remember hearing as a young person. It’s hardly their fault; we often don’t have to look far to see how such attitudes are fostered, or the fear and lack of insight that helps fuel them.
A few high profile people have chosen to declare their depression in an attempt to de-stigmatize the issue. I’m sure it helps a little, but I suspect most mere mortals carry a very real concern about how depression is viewed and the implication it may have on their lives, their work and so on. And so the cruelty of depression lingers on. It will mostly allow people to drag their way through daily life with some people not even realizing the weight they carry is called depression. So just how extensive is the problem? Here are some official figures:
The mood disorder category includes major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder and bipolar disorder.
Major depressive disorder is considered the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15-44. It affects around 7 percent of the population in a given year, and that’s around 15 million people.
Dysthymic disorder, a form of chronic but milder depression, is consider to affect just over three million American adults in a given year.
Bipolar disorder, affects just under 6 million American adults.
There are many ramifications of mood disorders but most extreme is suicide. Over 90 percent of people that kill themselves have a diagnosable mental disorder, most commonly a depressive disorder. In 2006, 33,300 people in the U.S. died by suicide.
Statistics can help to focus our attention, but with any form of mental illness there are the countless thousands who have never sought professional help for their situation. Our picture of the true extent of the problem is likely to remain blurred for the foreseeable future.
National Institutes of Health; National Institute of Mental Health. The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml#Mood