Gallup Poll Shows Depression at Record Highs
If you’ve been pondering the collective state of mental health in the United States and feel that it is getting decidedly worse, recent Gallup research has shown that this may indeed be the case. Gallup recently released data showing that the percentage of adults reporting having been diagnosed with depression over their lifetime has hit 29% in 2023. This is almost ten percentage points higher than in 2015 when the poll was first taken. The question of current depression is similarly problematic, with nearly 18% of American adults reporting being treated for or having depression. This is an increase of over seven percentage points from 2015.¹
Interesting Data Points
Of course, the abovementioned metrics are staggering, but plenty of additional data adds context. For example, almost 37% of women reported being diagnosed with depression during their lifetime, and nearly 24% of women currently have or are being treated for depression. This compares to just over 20% and just over 11%, respectively, for men. There were also significant differences in age groups. Over 34% of adults aged 18 to 44 were diagnosed with depression sometime in their life. 24.6% of 18 to 29-year-olds report currently being treated for depression. The trend is generally downward as respondents age. There are also some differences between ethnicities, with black and Hispanic adults experiencing the highest levels of diagnosed lifetime depression at 34% and 31%, respectively. White adults are not far behind at 29%.
Can We Trust This Poll?
It’s essential to dive right into whether we should take numbers like these seriously. The fact is that any poll can be inaccurate; in this case, it is based on a survey of just over 5000 adults. Of course, Gallup is one of the most reputable polling services in the United States, and to that end, we hope that their data collection methods are sound. More importantly, however, we need to look at the trends, and these are skewed upward.
We must simultaneously consider a societal trend toward greater openness related to mental health concerns. This was a big part of the strains and stresses associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we have also seen more celebrities and influential personalities publicly airing their mental health struggles. Is this upward trend an actual rise in mental health problems for our more respondents comfortable telling the truth? We may not know.
Was There a Catalyst?
Looking at the Gallup data, it becomes evident that the timeline of the COVID pandemic could be the catalyst for this significant increase in depression. While a general upward trend existed before 2020, the pandemic shows a clear spike in depression issues. Once again, it’s hard to know if this is simply a result of people discussing their mental health struggles or if there is an increased incidence of depression in US adults. That said, we know that humans are inherently social beings, and the solitude and isolation that the pandemic brought created an environment that could result in an increase in depression. Interestingly, you would think that post-pandemic, there would be a dramatic drop in those suffering from depression and mental health issues, but it seems that the trend continues higher.
The SBMHC Take
The Sylvia Brampton Mental Health Center was founded on the knowledge that there is a significant unmet need for quality mental health care in the United States. Access to care is not where we want it to be, and there is a lack of qualified clinicians and facilities available to help those struggling. Beyond the upward trends that we see in this Gallup poll and our center, it’s alarming to see how many people in the US and around the world suffer from depression. If the data from this poll can be extrapolated to the broader population, close to one in three American adults have had depression in their lifetimes, and close to one in five are currently fighting depression. This is a staggering number.
Ben Brafman, Chief Clinical Offer and Co-Founder of SBMHC, doesn’t mince words saying: “Depression today is an epidemic. We’ve always struggled with depression as a society, but we have seen more and more young adults coming to SBMHC with serious concerns that need intensive treatment. There are many reasons for this, not least of which is a hangover of sorts from the pandemic, but also the proliferation of social media and the need to keep up with others to maintain self-worth. While the problem is staggering, there is a silver lining. We hear more conversations about mental health within families, in the media, and from celebrities worldwide. With conversation comes identification and ultimately solutions.”
Is Depression That Bad?
The seriousness and severity of depression have been somewhat watered down by the frivolous use of the word. Unfortunately, “I am depressed” is now a part of everyday speech, especially with younger generations, meaning that the term does not hold the weight it should from a clinical perspective. So, the short answer to this question is yes, depression can be debilitating, and one does not “snap out of it.”
When we think of depression, we often picture someone lying in bed, unwilling to enjoy the activities around them. This is undoubtedly the case for many patients with severe depression. However, depression can affect almost every part of life, leading to fractures in relationships, often significant weight gain, subsequent cardiovascular problems, and a vicious cycle that worsens these individual concerns. Many of those with depression can develop other mental health problems and can even turn to abusing substances to numb the pain. For some, this ends in suicide, which can often be prevented with proper intervention and counseling.
Coping with Depression
Depression, and for the purposes of this article, major depressive disorder, is not easy to overcome by oneself. The downward spiral can be all-encompassing when you are not motivated to perform even the most basic tasks or take care of yourself emotionally or physically. The most important strategy for coping with depression is communication, often starting with family and friends and seeking professional help.
Communicating with family and friends can be a challenge because individuals with depression are often concerned that they will look weak or that their loved ones’ opinions of them will change. However, including family and friends is the fastest way to make the most appropriate decisions moving forward.
One of these decisions can, and should, be seeking out the help of a qualified mental health professional. Higher functioning patients with depression may be able to see an independent therapist to get the care they need while living at home and working as usual. For those with longer-term and more severe depression, an intensive outpatient or partial hospitalization depression treatment program, like the one at SBMHC, may offer the structure and support necessary to get them back to the life they want.