What are the consequences of untreated depression?

Updated: Sep 02, 2020
  • Author: Louise B Andrew, MD, JD; Chief Editor: Barry E Brenner, MD, PhD, FACEP  more...
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Depression is a potentially life-threatening mood disorder that affects 1 in 6 persons in the United States, or approximately 17.6 million Americans each year. Depressed patients are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. [1] Not counting the effect of secondary disease states, over the next 20 years, unipolar depression is projected to be the second leading cause of disability worldwide and the leading cause of disability in high-income nations, including the United States. [2]

Morbidity associated with depression is difficult to quantify, but the lethality of depression takes the measurable form of completed suicide, the tenth leading reported cause of death in the United States. [3]

The current economic cost of depressive illness is estimated to be $30-44 billion annually in the United States alone. In addition to considerable pain and suffering that interfere with individual functioning, depression affects those who care about the ill person, sometimes destroying family relationships or work dynamics between the patient and others. Therefore, the human cost in suffering cannot be overestimated.

As many as two thirds of people with depression do not realize that they have a treatable illness and do not seek treatment. Only 50% of persons diagnosed with major depression receive any kind of treatment, and only 20% of those individuals receive treatment consistent with current practice guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association (APA). [2, 4] More alarming, in a large Canadian study, 48% of patients who had suicidal ideation and 24% of those who had made a suicide attempt reported not receiving care or even perceiving the need for care. [5]

Persistent ignorance about depression and blatant misperceptions of the disease by the public, and even some health providers, as a personal weakness or failing that can be "willed" or "wished away",  lead to painful stigmatization of sufferers, and avoidance of the diagnosis by many persons who are affected by the disease.

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