If between 16 and 20 million Americans were on crutches, their legs wrapped in plaster casts, one might reasonably suspect an orthopedic epidemic was unfolding.
Some 16 million Americans do suffer from a much less visible, but more destructive and costly condition: major depression, or major depressive disorder (MDD).
MDD is a psychiatric disorder that the American Psychiatric Association says “goes beyond the normal human experiences of sadness.” It includes symptoms such as feeling worthless, thoughts of suicide, loss of interest in activities, and significant reduction or increase in appetite, all of which can conspire to interfere with work, relationships, and every day activities.
And it’s costly.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry estimated the total annual economic burden of major depressive disorder in the U.S. at $210.5 billion.
Employers are concerned, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and they should be.
“Depression is a major cause of disability, absenteeism, presenteeism, and productivity loss among working-age adults,” the CDC writes on its website. According to the CDC:
- 18.8 million American adults will suffer from a depressive illness.
- 20% of people aged 55 and older will experience a mental health issue.
- 80% of persons with depression reported some level of functional impairment because of their depression.
- 27% reported serious difficulties in work and home life.
- Patients with depression missed an average of 4.8 workdays, and were less productive on 11.5 days over a three-month period.
“We can’t see it in those obvious ways, but depression is out there and it is taking a big toll on the economy,” said Karie Batzler, director of behavioral health for Capital BlueCross.
“Unfortunately, mental health conditions carry a stigma. People are often ashamed. Depression is an issue that has long been kept in a closet, but, just as doctors can heal broken bones, medical professionals and counselors can help heal those suffering from depression.”
Congress created National Mental Illness Awareness Week (Oct. 4-10 this year) in 1990. It coincides with other events, including National Depression Screening Day on Oct. 8.
Mental Health America, a community-based nonprofit founded in 1909, believes depression screening should be a routine part of healthcare, and that anyone experiencing symptoms such as prolonged sadness, anxiety, and emptiness, or suicidal thoughts, should consider being screened.
Screening can lead to earlier treatment and better outcomes, mental health professionals believe.
Mental Health America even offers a free, online, confidential screening test on its website.
One arguably positive side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is the increase in use of telehealth services, Batzler said.
Such platforms seem particularly well suited to psychiatry and counseling services, she added, because they help ensure social distancing, increase access, and even alleviate some of the stigma sometimes associated with showing up at the office of a mental health professional.
Capital BlueCross’ telehealth platform, called Virtual Care, offers psychiatry and counseling services in addition to standard medical care. To help address mental wellness issues during the pandemic, the insurer is offering Virtual Care for free through Dec. 31 for Capital BlueCross members that have the benefit.
Capital BlueCross also recently unveiled a new Mental Health and Wellness page on its corporate website. In addition to informative blogs on various mental health related topics, the site includes a directory of key mental health resources and other organizations.