Study finds people more depressed now than in 1980s

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COLUMBIA - According to a new study, Americans are now more depressed than they have been for decades.

One Columbia mom said she isn't surprised. A former psychiatric nurse, Lisa Wayland-Altschul has also dealt with her fair share of loved ones who have suffered from mental illnesses.

"The ratio of depression is one to four, so one out of every four people will have a significant depressive episode in their lifetime. And that's a significant portion of the population."

The study, conducted at San Diego State University, found that "Americans now report more psychosomatic symptoms of depression, such as trouble sleeping and trouble concentrating, than their counterparts in the 1980s."

The report's author, Jean Twenge, said teens are "38 percent more likely to have trouble remembering, 74 percent more likely to have trouble sleeping and twice as likely to have seen a professional for mental health issues."

Twenge said her work differed from previous studies because it focused on people reporting typical symptoms of depression rather than requiring participants that had been formally diagnosed.

The study found respondents were willing to report classic symptoms of depression, but when asked if they were depressed, most disagreed.

Wayland-Altschul said that makes sense to her.

"People don't want to acknowledge that anything is wrong. I think part of that is this idea that being anything less than perfect today is wrong," she said.

Psychiatrist Dick Hayes said the important thing to realize is that depression is an illness, not a character defect.

"It's literally a bio-chemical imbalance," he said. "It's not something that people can wish away, even if they want to."

Wayland-Altschul said she thinks the first step to decreasing depression today is to remove the stigma around mental illness.

"The shame of having to admit something is wrong can even keep some people from taking necessary medication, in my experience. And that's just sad to me that they're not getting the help they need."

It's not just those who suffer from depression that are affected.

"It's the families as well," Wayland Altschul said. "We need support too, in order to help our loved ones get through this illness."

She said that means carefully relying on friends.

"With some people, you can tell that they think mental illness is a choice, or some sort of mistake. With others, you know that they understand, that they feel for your family. "

The key is education, according to Wayland-Altschul.

"If people know how often depression can happen, how many people suffer, and what really causes it, I think we'll see the stigma around mental illness finally decrease," she said.