By Dr. Mercola
Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS),1 a major U.S. medical insurer, suggests more than 4 percent of commercially insured Americans, or roughly 9 million people, suffer from clinical depression. Moreover, they report depression rates have jumped by 33 percent in the past five years, steadily increasing across all age and gender groups — with the rates of incidence for adolescents and millennials being of notable concern.
The implications of this data are far-reaching, especially given the reality that most people struggling with depression are also dealing with one or more other chronic health conditions, BCBS says. If you suffer from depression, you may also be affected by anxiety, diabetes, heart disease or another chronic illness. As the rates of depression continue to rise, you may be wondering what can be done to treat it. The good news is a number of natural treatments exist that will do more good for you than pharmaceutical drugs ever could.
Health Insurer BCBS Reports Depression Rates up 33 Percent in 5 Years
Based on insurance claims filed by 41 million of its privately insured members, BCBS reports diagnoses of clinical depression — also known as major depression — have risen by 33 percent during the past five years.2 Given the reality most sufferers of depression also battle other health conditions, such as anxiety, chronic illness or substance abuse, BCBS says major depression ranks behind high blood pressure as “the second most impactful condition on the overall health of commercially insured Americans.” 3
According to the report,4 women of any age are more likely than men to be clinically depressed. Since 2013, depression diagnoses have increased across every demographic, with the most dramatic increase noticeable among younger Americans. In the past five years, depression diagnosis rates have spiked:
- 65 percent among adolescent girls
- 47 percent among adolescent boys
- 47 percent among millennials
Depressed men and women may lose, on average, up to 9.6 years of healthy life, the report says. “Some of the literature is already starting to predict that by 2030 depression will be the No.1 cause for loss of longevity or life,” says Dr. Trent Haywood, chief medical officer for the BCBS Association.5
Does Where You Live Affect Depression Rates?
Although screening standards and environmental and socioeconomic differences vary across states and likely have some bearing on the BCBS data, where you live may be a factor for depression. (Keep in mind all of these numbers apply only to the group of privately insured Americans included in the BCBS claim sample. Rates of depression may be higher or lower in the general population.) With respect to geography, BCBS noted:6,7
- Higher rates of major depression were observed in New England and the Pacific Northwest, as well as some pockets across the Midwest and South
- Maine, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Utah each have depression rates on the high side, around 6 percent
- Hawaii, Nevada and Arizona have the lowest rates of depression at around 2 to 3 percent
- From 2013 to 2016, 49 of the 50 states saw increasing rates of depression diagnoses, with only Hawaii showing a slight decline
Move Over Depression — Levels of Loneliness Also Increasing
BCBS is not alone in raising concerns about the increasing rates of mental illness in the U.S. As mentioned in the video above, based on an online survey with 20,000 adult respondents, health insurer Cigna suggests most Americans are lonely.8,9 Surprisingly, the highest rates of loneliness were not found among the elderly as you may expect but, rather, in Generation Z (ages 18 to 22) and millennials (ages 20 to 35).
By the way, loneliness is now considered to be a public health threat. It is thought to be as harmful to your health as obesity and nearly as bad as smoking. Below are some highlights from the Cigna survey:10
- Nearly 50 percent of respondents said they sometimes or always feel alone or left out
- Just 53 percent have meaningful in-person social interactions on a daily basis
- 27 percent rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them
- 2 in 5 sometimes or always feel their relationships aren’t meaningful and feel they are isolated from others
- Social media use alone was not a predictor of loneliness because the loneliness scores were about the same for very heavy users (43.5) and nonusers (41.7)
About the potential health consequences of loneliness, David Cordani, president and CEO of Cigna, said, “There’s a blurred line between mental and physical health. Oftentimes, medical symptoms present themselves and they’re correlated with … issues like loneliness.”11
Anxiety Rates on the Rise; Women More Affected Than Men
Beyond loneliness, anxiety is also taking a toll. A poll12 of 1,004 adults conducted by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) notes 39 percent of Americans report being more anxious this year than last year. Other outcomes from the survey included:
- This year’s national anxiety score was 51, representing a 5-point jump from last year
- Anxiety scores were up across age groups, with millennials reflecting more anxiety than baby boomers or Generation Z
- Anxiety among baby boomers increased 7 points from 2017 to 2018 — the greatest increase recorded across all survey groups
- While more Americans are anxious this year than last year in all five of the categories surveyed — finances, health, politics, relationships and safety — the most significant increase year to year was related to anxiety about paying bills
- Women are more anxious than men: 57 percent of women ages 18 to 49 years reported being more anxious year to year as compared to 38 percent of men of the same age
With respect to the survey outcomes, APA president Dr. Anita Everett said:13
“This poll shows U.S. adults are increasingly anxious — particularly about health, safety and finances. Increased stress and anxiety can significantly impact many aspects of people’s lives, including their mental health, and it can affect families. It highlights the need to help reduce the effects of stress with regular exercise, relaxation, healthy eating and time with friends and family.”
Notably, the poll also investigated attitudes and perceptions about mental health and treatment, which reflected:14
- 86 percent of Americans surveyed believe a person’s mental health impacts his or her physical health
- 75 percent feel untreated mental illness has a significant impact on the U.S. economy
- 50 percent said there is less social stigma related to mental illness than there was 10 years ago
- 35 percent of the respondents would not vote for a candidate for public office who had been diagnosed with a mental illness, regardless if the person had received treatment
- Just 12 percent thought mental health should be a top consideration for federal policymakers
Tending Your Behavioral Health Is as Important as Caring for Your Physical Well-Being
Given the prevalence of depression, loneliness, anxiety and other mental health conditions, it’s clear keeping up with your behavioral health is as important as taking care of your physical health. For years I have talked about the strong link between your mental and physical health, which is more commonly known as your mind-body connection. If you are not sure such a connection exists, consider the fact the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says depression has been linked to a higher risk of:15
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 diabetes
According to the BCBS survey,16 of the more than 9 million people diagnosed with major depression in 2016, 85 percent were diagnosed with both major depression and at least one other health condition. Nearly one-third of the people presented with four or more additional health concerns. Upon further exploration of the relationship between clinical depression and other conditions, BCBS said:17
“[P]eople diagnosed with major depression are twice as likely to also suffer from one or more other chronic diseases, three times as likely to suffer from pain-related disorders and injuries, and seven times as likely to suffer from alcohol or substance-use disorders than people who do not have major depression.”
NIMH states, “One factor with some of these illnesses is that many people with depression … may have a harder time caring for their health, for example, seeking care, taking prescribed medication, eating well and exercising.”18 Furthermore, NIMH says with respect to depression, scientists “have found changes in the way several different systems in the body function, all of which can have an impact on physical health.”19 Some of the physical signs noticeable in people with depression include:20
- Heart rate and blood circulation changes
- Increased inflammation
- Metabolic changes
- Stress hormone abnormalities
“They’re intertwined,” said Haywood. “You might start with a condition and then go on to have depression, or you might start with depression and go on to have a chronic condition. It’s bidirectional.”21
Antidepressant Medications May Do More Harm Than Good
After conducting a meta-analysis of 17 studies22 related to antidepressant drug-related deaths, researchers from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, assert taking such medications increases your risk of death. After removing the people suffering from cardiovascular disease from their findings, the team noted the risk of death jumped by 33 percent for those taking antidepressants as compared to those who do not take them.
Beyond this, the researchers noted antidepressant users had a 14 percent higher risk of cardiovascular events, such as strokes and heart attacks. “We are very concerned by these results,” said lead study author Paul Andrews, Ph.D., assistant professor of evolutionary psychology at McMaster. “They suggest people shouldn’t be taking antidepressant drugs without understanding precisely how they interact with the body.” 23
Though many physicians think antidepressants are useful to reduce depressive symptoms, study co-author Marta Maslej, a Ph.D. candidate in the McMaster department of psychology, neuroscience and behavior, says not enough is known about the impact these drugs have outside your brain. “[W]hat we do know [about their effects on the rest of the body] points to an increased risk of death,” noted Maslej.24
On a positive note, the McMaster team found antidepressants to have no harmful effects on people suffering from heart disease, mainly because selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants have blood-thinning effects that are beneficial for cardiovascular conditions. About the results, the Daily Mail said:25
“The scientists think this is because antidepressants are also a blood thinner, which actually protects the health of people with heart disease because it stops blood clotting. But among people without heart disease, this is dangerous because it increases the risk of a major hemorrhage or internal bleeding.”
Natural Treatments to Help Address Anxiety and Depression
Given the increasing rates of anxiety and depression, as well as the potentially negative effects associated with psychiatric drugs, I urge you to consider natural treatments ahead of pharmaceuticals. Below are some alternatives you may want to consider:
The way you breathe is intricately connected to your mental state. I’ve previously published interviews with Patrick McKeown, a leading expert on the Buteyko Breathing Method, and I highly recommend the approach.
Electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure
Exposure to microwave radiation from baby monitors, cellphones, cellphone towers, portable phones, smart meters and Wi-Fi routers may be influencing your mental health more than you know. At a minimum, turn off these gadgets or keep them at a distance when you are sleeping.
Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT)
In the video above, EFT practitioner Julie Schiffman demonstrates how to use tapping to address depression.
Daily movement of some kind is necessary for optimal health and regular exercise is vital to your mental and physical well-being. Set a goal to walk at least 10,000 steps a day and consider cardio, stretching and weight training, too.
Gastrointestinal abnormalities have been linked to a variety of psychological problems, including anxiety and depression, so be sure to eat a fiber-rich diet. Also consider eating fermented foods or taking a probiotic supplement.
A few of the nutritional imbalances known to contribute to mental health problems involve lack of animal-based omega-3 fats, B vitamins, magnesium and vitamin D.
Mindfulness training and/or a spiritual practice
Meditation (including mindfulness meditation), prayer and other spiritual practices are not only calming and soothing, but they also help enliven the connection among your mind, body and emotions.
Also known as magic mushrooms, psilocybin, though not yet legal in the U.S., may be a game changer in the treatment for severe anxiety and depression. Use it only under the guidance of a licensed medical professional.
You may realize sleep has a direct effect on your cognition, memory and mood and you probably know most adults need seven to nine hours of high-quality sleep each night. If you have trouble getting the sleep you need, check out my article 33 Secrets to a Good Night’s Sleep.
Sugar and processed foods
Your diet plays a key role in your mental health and eating sugar-laden and processed foods does very little to feed your brain or balance your mood. A few small changes with respect to your food choices could make a huge difference in your mental health.
All sorts of helpful therapies exist that can help ease the symptoms of anxiety and depression. A few you may want to consider are acupuncture, cranial sacral massage, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), nature sounds, talk therapy and yoga, to name a few. Any therapeutic activity that promotes relaxation and mind-body awareness is worth considering.
Toxic exposures can influence your health in huge ways. For example, a common symptom of toxic mold exposure is anxiety, so pay attention if your symptoms improve when you spend time away from your home or office. If you’ve been putting it off, now is the time to replace toxic products with natural alternatives for household cleaning and personal care.
Your mental health is as important as your physical health and it requires your attention. Take steps today to begin caring for yourself mentally and emotionally. Even if you have not received an official diagnosis, you are very likely affected by occasional bouts of anxiety and depression. As a preventative measure, you can benefit from taking up an item or two from the table above. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.