Editor’s note: Podcast Season 8 Chasing life with Dr. Sanjay Gupta Get back to basics with an in-depth examination of the brain in different states. Each episode will focus on one of those states (the distracted brain, the scared brain, the nourished brain, etc.) to highlight what’s going on in our heads and how it affects our bodies.
(CNN)— Depression is increasing in the United States. Chances are, if you don’t struggle with this condition, you almost certainly know someone who does.
Nearly 18% of American adults (more than 1 in 6) said they are currently depressed or receiving treatment for depression, according to a 2023 Gallup poll. In 2015, when Gallup began collecting data on the topic, the figure was less than 11%.
Gallup data shows that clinical depression was slowly increasing in the country before the pandemic, but grew more rapidly after the pandemic, and social isolation, loneliness, fear of infection, psychological exhaustion, substance abuse Substances and disruption of mental health care took their toll. Rates among women, young adults, and black and Hispanic adults are rising the fastest.
For teens ages 12 to 17, the statistics are also dire: According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 million children in that age group (a little more than 20%) experienced an episode of major depression in 2021 (the most recent). year with data available), and 3.7 million experience serious deterioration.
Psychiatrist Charles Raison, a professor of human ecology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said he has struggled with depression. Raison, who is also director of Vail Health’s Center for Behavioral Health Innovation and former CNN Health mental health expert, described the state of mental health in America in one word: “bad.”
“There’s no question that depression, anxiety, suicide and substance abuse have been on the rise in the United States… for probably 20, 25 years, maybe longer,” Raison told CNN’s chief medical correspondent. , Dr. Sanjay Gupta, recently on the podcast. Chasing life. “But they have really increased over the last 10 years and the data is really consistent.
“The increase is not equal across all age groups,” Raison said. “The people who are really suffering are the young people. So, people between 15 and 35 years old, that’s where you see this really worrying increase.”
While the rise in depression among Americans is alarming, what is also disturbing is the difficulty in identifying the cause. We can’t see it on a brain scan. We don’t have blood tests for it. We cannot measure its severity precisely.
Raison compared depression to “dropsy” (an old-fashioned term for edema) that could be caused by different underlying conditions or factors. “It could be… heart failure. It could be pneumonia. It could be cancer. There are different reasons for producing those symptoms,” he said.
“Will we ever find a test to diagnose depression? No, because depression is like dropsy…” she said, pointing out different possible underlying causes. “Depression is not something that is going to be tested in a single test.”
And that may be one of the reasons depression is so difficult to treat.
Take antidepressants such as Prozac, also known by the generic name fluoxetine. It was launched in the country 35 years ago as the first in a new class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. The idea was that depression was the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain, and the imbalance could be corrected by targeting the neurotransmitter serotonin. It was followed in 1993 by serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, or SNRIs, which target two neurotransmitters.
But antidepressants It doesn’t work for everyone.
“The issue of using antidepressants, which are the first-line treatment for depression in the United States, is incredibly complex,” Raison said, noting that they are “lifesavers for some people.”
“But over the last 20 years, we’ve had to metabolize, as a field, a number of very hard truths about antidepressants and their effectiveness,” he said. “A hard truth, and the most obvious, is that they do not work as well as we thought 30 years ago,” estimating that only 30% of patients “obtain a complete response.”
To hear what promising new treatments are being tested for depression, listen to the full episode of Chasing Life here:
So what can you do to help yourself if you’re depressed? Raison has these five tips.
Make an appointment with a mental health professional.
“If you feel constantly depressed, if you’ve lost interest in life, if your sleep and your appetite are disturbed, if you feel hopeless, if you have thoughts of hurting yourself, these kinds of things, that’s what depression means. . It is,” Raison said. Getting help is especially important if you have been experiencing these symptoms for a couple of months.
“All of us who struggle with depression know that having a doctor… can help, whether it’s psychotherapy or medication… or both,” she said.
It turns out that what is good for the body is also good for the brain.
“Really try to do the kinds of things you would do for your physical health,” Raison said. “I often tell people, ‘Think about what you would do if you wanted to take care of your heart health and do the same.’ All of those things are also antidepressants. So control your body weight, eat healthy foods, get enough sleep, get enough exercise and get sunlight.”
Try to maintain close relationships.
“(Advice) number 3 is sometimes very difficult when you are depressed. … But it’s probably the most important thing: trying to maximize our interpersonal connections with other people,” Raison said.
“If you have loving, closer, supportive relationships with other people, it is a great protective factor against depression. It is also a factor that can really help you overcome depression.”
Be persistent in seeking help.
“How people, especially in the United States, respond to antidepressant medications tends to be very divided,” Raison said. “There’s a smaller group of people who just start taking an antidepressant and feel better within a couple of weeks and… and the depression goes away,” while others struggle with chronic depression.
So if one antidepressant doesn’t work, he said, “Try another one.”
But don’t be afraid to move forward. “We have known for a long time, for example, that people who do not respond to several antidepressants in a row are less likely to respond to the next one, but they are not less likely to respond to psychotherapy.” ” he said.
Generate a state of gratitude.
“Strive to develop an attitude of gratitude,” Raison said.
Raison admits that doing so isn’t always easy when you’re depressed. “If you can make it a habit, it can be very powerful in both preventing depression and making you feel better if you’re depressed,” he said.
We hope these five tips help you take better care of a depressed brain. Listen to the full episode here. And join us next week at the Chasing Life Podcast when we explore dating and the brain, and what all that swiping does to us.