Depression Rates Rise over Generations

By Bower, Bruce | Science News, December 5, 1992 | Go to article overview
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Depression Rates Rise over Generations

Bower, Bruce, Science News

Rates of severe, often incapacitating depression have increased in each succeeding generation born since 1915, according to the first international study of trends in the frequency of depression.

The magnitude of the elevation in severe, or major, depression varied considerably from one site to another, with some areas also exhibiting short-term fluctuations, possibly in response to local events such as warfare, reports a 40-member "cross-national collaborative group" in the Dec.2 JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION.

Reasons for the jump in depression rates across generations, as well as for variations at different sites, remain unknown, the researchers assert. For now, they maintain, the findings suggest that many countries should mount efforts similar to that of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., which recently launched a program to improve recognition and treatment of major depression in the United States.

It is estimated that at least 9 percent of females and 5 percent of males in the United States suffer from severe depression at some time in their lives.

Two New York City psychiatrists, Myrna M. Weissman of Columbia University and the late Gerald L. Klerman of Cornell University Medical College, organized the new study after noting in 1989 that diverse research methods made it hard to compare data on depression rates from different countries.

They contacted the directors of nine independent population surveys of approximately 39,000 people and three family studies of about 4,000 people.

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