Depression is on the rise in the United States, and it’s affecting these groups most: women, young adults, and Black people.
Gallup, a global analytics firm based in America, discovered this finding in a national survey of 5,167 adults. The results showed that 29% of men and women have been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives — up 10% since 2015. And 17% of adults currently have or are being treated for depression, a 7% increase since 2015.
“Both rates are the highest recorded by Gallup since it began measuring depression using the current form of data collection in 2015,” Dan Witters, research director of the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index, wrote in a statement.
Loneliness Plagues Young Adults
Despite being the most active on social media, young adults between 18 and 29 are the loneliest age group. While online audiences can forge a sense of community, viral posts, flattering comments, likes, and shares don’t always make up for poor social connections in real life.
Dr. George James, a relationship therapist and author, says scrolling through feeds can be counterproductive for young adults who are defining their lives.
“It feels like, ‘man, everybody else is living the life, and I’m not’,” he told Word In Black.
Seeing followers with new jobs and homes, fancy cars, and growing families can add pressure to an already challenging transition for young adults who, as James says, are told to go after those things post-graduation, though obtaining them is not guaranteed.
But there is a positive side to the apps.
With nearly two million followers on Instagram, therapists like Nedra Glover Tawwab use their platforms as a source of healing for mental illnesses, such as depression. Brandon Jones, a therapist who specializes in trauma, agrees that social media can be a helpful tool.
“You really have to go and find content creators — influencers, social engineers, mentors, whoever — who are providing that upliftment,” he says.
Rates of loneliness skyrocketed for young adults during the pandemic, as it did for most people. But now that the outside is open again, James suggests that 20-somethings explore hobbies and create new connections.
“Maybe, you played baseball or softball growing up. You can join a softball league, or you can get involved in other things,” he says. “Sometimes, it’s figuring out what those interests are and finding ways to do that.”
Black People and Misdiagnosis
Black adults are reporting depression diagnoses at twice the rate of white adults, according to Gallup. Historically, white adults have surpassed Black folks in this area. But Black people suddenly being diagnosed more frequently doesn’t mean they haven’t always had the illness.
“It might mean that the field is just getting better information, and they’re understanding the cultural experience of Black people and giving a more accurate diagnosis,” Jones says.
A December 2022 paper published in Nursing Research revealed that depressive symptoms appear differently in Black women compared to other groups, and this may cause providers to misdiagnose or undertreat the disease.
This is not a new phenomenon.
Researchers at Rutgers University found that Black folks with severe depression are more likely to be misdiagnosed with schizophrenia. The team suggests that racial bias contributes to clinicians emphasizing psychotic symptoms over depressive ones.
Yet, COVID-19, social injustice, and economic challenges continue to hit the Black community hard.
“It has just been one thing after the next after the next,” James says. “And this has led to lots of people feeling burnt out, overwhelmed, stressed, and depressed.”
He’s also seen more Black people enter therapy — a trend that’s good for the community. Jones says sometimes, they “wait so long to get that professional help, and our issues become so complex that we don’t know where to start.”
“Depression is treatable. It’s not terminal. It can be short-term. It can be something that’s not here anymore, but you have to take an active engagement in your life,” Jones says.
But economics can be a barrier for Black, low-earning people and women — who report being diagnosed with depression at nearly twice the rate of men.
“People are gonna have to lean on one another for support, for enlightenment, for enjoyment…Maybe it’s just one or two people that you trust that you can be vulnerable with and that you can get the connection that you need,” Jones says. “I think so many people just kind of deal with things on the individual level that they end up struggling to learn.”