Depression taking a bigger economic toll on US

The economic costs from the psychological affliction of depression have gotten significantly larger in recent years—and people suffering from that condition were hit particularly hard by the 2008 financial crisis, a new study has found.

Annual costs related to major depressive disorder rose to $210.5 billion in 2010, according to the study published Wednesday in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. That represents a 21 percent increase over the $173.3 billion in overall annual economic fallout linked to sufferers of the disorder as of 2005, the report noted.

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"The current study adds to our understanding of MDD as a source of significant economic burden," the report's authors wrote.

Depressed worker office
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The report, which drew on data from insurance claims in the OptumHealth Reporting and Insights database, leads off with the observation that in the U.S., depression "is the leading cause of disability for people aged 15-44, resulting in almost 400 million disability days per year, substantially more than more other physical and mental conditions."

And more people were suffering from that affliction in 2010 compared to 2005, the report said.

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During that five-year time span, the number of people suffering from depression grew from 13.8 million to 15.4 million, with the fastest rate of increase seen among people older than the age 50.

"Worsening economic conditions after the 2008 downturn took a particularly heavy toll" on those people, noted the report, whose lead author, Paul Greenberg, is a managing principal at the Boston-based economic consulting firm Analysis Group.

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Among sufferers of major depressive disorder, there was a 6.2 percentage point increase in the rate of people who were either unemployed or not looking for work, the report noted. In contrast, people without MDD saw just a 3.8 percentage point increase, study found.

Breaking down the costs

The report breaks out three areas that contribute to the $210.5 billion tally it arrives at: workplace costs, direct costs and suicide-related costs.

Workplace costs, which included missed days and reduced productivity, were responsible for half of all the costs related to sufferers of depression. The next biggest contributor, at 45 percent of total costs, came from direct costs, which included medical claims and pharmaceutical costs.

The remaining 5 percent came from suicide-related costs, which include the loss of earnings.

Only a minority of the economic costs from MDD patients identified by the study—38 percent—were due to major depression itself the report found.

The biggest share of the costs associated with those people came from so-called comorbidities, or conditions that were occurring for them at the same time as their depression, such as anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, and physical ailments like back pain, sleep disorders and migraine headaches.

Given that fact, the report authors wrote, "Further research should focus on the relative importance of these different factors and analyze further the comorbidities associated with MDD that account for the largest portion of the total economic burden of the disease."