The COVID-19 pandemic brought fresh awareness to the topic of mental health while at the same time placing unprecedented stress on people’s coping resources and well-being.
One study, which looked at changes in the prevalence of depressive symptoms during the pandemic, found that 32.8% of U.S. adults suffered from elevated depressive symptoms in 2021, compared with 27.8% of adults at the beginning of the pandemic and 8.5% prior to the pandemic. Additionally, according to the World Health Organization, the worldwide prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25% during the first year of the pandemic.
In 2023, many people have settled into new routines, rebuilt social connections, and sought mental health resources. However, new research from Gallup suggests that rates of depression are still climbing, and they are disproportionately affecting certain groups. Key findings from Gallup’s 2023 U.S. survey include the following:
- More than one-third of women, or 36.7%, report receiving a diagnosis of depression during their lifetimes compared with 20.4% of men. Additionally, while rates of lifetime depression have increased significantly since 2017 for both men and women, the rate for women has increased at just shy of twice the rate for men.
- Women along with young adults ages 18-29 report the highest rates of current depression symptoms or current treatment for depression. These two groups are also seeing some of the fastest increases in rates of current depression or treatment for depression since 2017.
- Rates of lifetime depression have risen quickly among Black and Hispanic adults and now exceed those of white adults.
- The percentage of adults reporting a lifetime diagnosis of depression has increased to 29%, which represents an increase of almost 10 percentage points since 2015.
What’s Driving These Changes?
Experts have identified a range of factors that may have contributed to the increasing rates of depression and other mental health conditions, both in the U.S. and globally. Social isolation, economic distress, loneliness, health disparities, grief, loss, and the lingering mental health impacts of the pandemic are among these possible causes.
The report from Gallup also notes that the widening gap in depression rates between women and men may be related to gender-specific factors that have been influenced by the pandemic. These factors could include job loss, stressors related to child care, and the high proportion of women working in high-risk healthcare roles in 2019.
Younger individuals may also be feeling the economic, social, and mental health-related impacts of the past few years more acutely due to their unique stage of life and the developmental opportunities they may have lost. Fortunately, many experts agree that mental health awareness is increasing and efforts to reduce stigma and promote open and honest conversations about mental health are trending in the right direction.
It’s also important to note that many people face multiple risk factors that may make them more vulnerable to experiencing symptoms of mental health concerns. Now more than ever, it’s crucial for organizations to continue working to reduce the stigma around seeking mental health support and striving to increase access to inclusive and personalized care.
The Case for Community
Social isolation is not just a risk factor for depression. It can also be a potential outcome of struggling with the disorder. That’s why finding meaningful community and a strong sense of belonging can make a critical difference for someone who’s working toward healing from depression or another mental health concern.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) characterizes community as a sense of connection and a feeling of being accepted for who you are. NAMI also points out that, in addition to facilitating belonging, community can also offer support and a sense of purpose. These concepts are two sides of the same coin: Support can help you feel less alone and provide practical assistance with solving daily challenges, while having a sense of purpose can help you appreciate and derive meaning from the value you bring to others.
At Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, we help women and adolescent girls build social and emotional resilience that can empower them to live healthier, more satisfying lives. We encourage each of our residents to become an active member in their therapeutic community, recognizing that the unique contributions of each person are valuable to the success of the group.
At our treatment center, women who are struggling with depression can discover that they are not alone and that greater hope and healing are possible. We provide a safe environment where women can heal in the presence of others who may share similar struggles, which can help create a foundation of lifelong community and support.