Why Depression So Often Goes Untreated
More than a quarter of America suffers, but millions don’t (or can’t) get help
This is the last in a four-part series on preventing depression, a serious and growing mental disorder that can strike at any age and, if untreated, persist and worsen.
Mental health stigmas, antiquated beliefs that psychotherapies are hokum, and social and financial barriers to treatment combine to keep millions of Americans young and old from getting much-needed help with depression, a common and increasingly pervasive mental health disorder that can affect anyone at any age.
“Only about half of all people who need treatment actually get it,” says Tracy Gladstone, PhD, a senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women.
The pool of need is growing. Teen depression has been rising since at least 2005, and the pandemic has added to adolescent burden. Among American adults, more than a quarter now report symptoms of moderate to severe depression. The statistics presage a potentially dire trajectory. Depression that starts in childhood often persists into adulthood. And even mild depression that first strikes in adulthood can, if untreated, deepen and turn chronic.
But solutions for both preventing and treating depression are right in front of us. We know what works, including self-help strategies anyone can employ, professionally guided talk therapy (otherwise known as psychotherapy), and in some cases (though not all) antidepressants.
Depression itself discourages people from seeking help
Depression is driven by a mix of genetics and experiences. It can range from mild and fleeting to severe and persistent. It can emerge gradually, but in most cases one or more traumatic events trigger the onset. Among the challenges is distinguishing full-blown depression from normal sadness.
Sure, we all feel a little blue now and then, and a few days of moodiness is nothing to worry about, experts say. But when days turn into weeks, when sadness is accompanied by hopelessness or helplessness, a person needs serious strategies and solutions that can simply feel out of reach.