NEW YORK CITY – March 12, 2007 – More than 430,000 New Yorkers suffer from depression, according to survey results released today by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. In addition, 200,000 New Yorkers have an anxiety disorder. Yet nearly half of these people go undiagnosed, and three out of five remain untreated.
“Depression is an illness and it’s treatable,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas R. Frieden. “Depression screening should be a routine part of medical care. A test for depression can be as important to your health as a blood pressure test or a cancer screening.”
The new findings, from the New York City Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (HANES), provide the first-ever concrete estimates of these mental health conditions in New York City.
The HANES survey, which was conducted in 2004, involved nearly 2,000 New Yorkers. Interviewers used face-to-face interviews that diagnosed participants. An earlier telephone survey had found that 6.3% of adults experience psychological distress each month, but it didn’t distinguish different types of distress. The new HANES findings provide a more specific measure, showing that 7.5% of NYC adults are depressed and that 3.5% suffer from anxiety. These are similar to national rates.
Risk Factors for Depression
The HANES survey found that depression takes a greater toll on certain groups. Women are almost twice as likely as men to suffer from depression. Younger New Yorkers have higher rates of depression than older people. In fact, those in their 20s and 30s are affected at about twice the rate of people over 60. Depression is twice as common among divorced or separated New Yorkers as among those who are married or cohabitating.
Foreign-born New Yorkers have lower-than-average rates of depression, but they face higher barriers to diagnosis and treatment. Immigrants with depression are 60% more likely to be undiagnosed than US-born adults.
Depression is also known to be more common among people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease and HIV/AIDS, and among pregnant and postpartum women.
Depression can be disabling, and it can be fatal
Depression can undermine overall health and well-being. Some 23% of New Yorkers with anxiety and 15% of those with depression say it limits their ability to work. Improved diagnosis and treatment could both help individuals, and benefit the city’s economy by increasing productivity.
Depression is the leading cause of suicide. National surveys show that 90% of people who commit suicide have an active mental disorder, principally depression. Many suicides could be prevented through the early intervention of a doctor or other health care professional. One study found that of people who committed suicide, 40% had been to the doctor in the past month, and 20% that week.
“Depression affects all aspects of our lives—work, family, friendships—and severe depression can lead to suicide,” said Dr. Lloyd Sederer, Executive Deputy Commissioner for Mental Hygiene. “But New Yorkers don’t have to suffer with these conditions. Both medication and therapy can make a big difference. If you are feeling down, ask your doctor about a simple test for depression, or call 3-1-1 and ask for LIFENET.”
Increasing Diagnosis and Treatment
The Health Department is making strides in building awareness about depression and increasing screening and treatment through mass media and by working with the medical community. Recent efforts to improve mental health citywide include:
- Visiting nearly 1500 primary care providers and their clinical staff to encourage them to make depression screening routine and provide them with a screening tool called the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ –9). The PHQ-9 is a simple, nine-question test. The score tells the primary-care doctor whether a patient is likely to be depressed. It can also measure improvement during treatment.
- Launching a 2006 public awareness campaign that encouraged New Yorkers to ask their doctors about a simple test for depression. The campaign, which included messages in English and Spanish, targeted neighborhoods with higher rates of frequent mental distress, including North and Central Brooklyn, Harlem, and the South Bronx. Campaign posters highlighted common symptoms of depression, including sadness, lack of energy, and sleeping problems.
- Working collaboratively with the Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) to incorporate depression screening into routine medical care and include depression screening results in patients’ electronic medical records to improve care.
- Actively screening low-income, first-time mothers and their families for depression through the Nurse Family Partnership. The NFP has screened 120 first-time mothers in Brooklyn, and is now expanding to other boroughs.
Depression screening is simple.
- Call 1-800-LIFENET or call 311 and ask for LifeNet, 24 hours a day, or
- Ask your regular doctor about a simple test for depression
Tips for Managing Depression:
- Exercise regularly to improve mood and manage stress.
- Set simple goals, and take small steps to reach them.
- Do something you enjoy every day. Find ways to relax.
- Spend time with people who can support you.
- Keep medical appointments and take all medications as prescribed.