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Is Depression Getting More Prevalent?

Question:

With all the news about depression and the vast number of people seeking help, i confess am i wondering if depression has always been around to the extent it is today or has something changed to accelerate its seeming prpfound growth in todays world? your thoughts doc???

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Answer:

It is very difficult to answer your question with any precision, mostly becuase there aren’t good records of depression’s prevalence in antiquity, or even several hundred years ago. There is no standard definition of what constitutes depression. Instead, definitions for depression (and most other illnesses) are somewhat political and reflect the science and cultural climate of the times they are written down. The most modern definition of depression (as a disorder involving biological as well as ‘mental’ symptoms) is pretty recent – maybe only in existance for the past 50 or so years. More and more we emphasize the physical side of mental illnesses, but it wasn’t always so. Go back 100 years and the condition was considered to be “all in the head”.

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p> The studies we can do today involve comparisons of what historical records we can find to today’s records, and studies involving older people’s recollections of depression episode rates at different points in their lives. The available data seem to be kind of contradictory, with some studies suggesting that depression rates are rising, and others suggesting that they are staying about the same. See http://archpsyc.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/57/3/209 for a good example of one such study that suggests rates are not changing all that much.

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p> My own personal opinion (which isn’t worth a dime science-wise) is that life is probably just about as stressful today as it was at any other point in history, and that depression rates are therefore probably about the same as they always were. Older people tell me that things were simpler in their day, but if you look at the things that people have lived through during the last 60 or so years (multiple wars, economic recessions, etc.), and if you look at the curve of cultural change (the introduction of new life altering techologies) it doesn’t seem to me that things are all that different today stress-wise than they were at least in the recent past. But then again, what do I know (grin!).

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