Rates of depression diagnosed among adults nationwide, according to a new...

Rates of depression diagnosed among adults nationwide, according to a new CDC report. Credit: CDC

The number of Long Island residents diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives stood at between 10% and nearly 20% in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new CDC study analyzing 2020 data.

Young people nationwide were diagnosed at the highest levels, the study found. Mental health experts on Long Island said the results were no surprise given once-in-a-lifetime health, social and political stressors set off by the pandemic, which by the end of March 2020, had shut down schools and businesses and forced residents to lock down in isolation.

"We've all gone through a lot these last three years … It's not just the pandemic," said Colleen Merlo, chief executive of the Association for Mental Health and Wellness in Ronkonkoma. "Look at the world we're looking at. It's so divisive … It's a challenging time for young people."

Among young adults nationwide, ages 18 to 24 in 2020, diagnosed depression was highest, at 21.5%, and lowest among those ages 65 and older, at 14.2%, according to the report, released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The number of Long Island residents diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives stood at between 10% and nearly 20% in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new CDC study.
  • Among young adults nationwide, ages 18 to 24 in 2020, diagnosed depression was highest, at 21.5%.
  • It was lowest among those ages 65 and older, at 14.2%.

"During 2020, approximately one in five U.S. adults reported having ever received a diagnosis of depression by a health care provider, with prevalence of depression higher in women, younger adults, and adults with lower education levels," the CDC said in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

"I think young people don't have the resources and tools an older generation has developed," Merlo said of the disparity of depression diagnosis between young and older adults. The prevalence of depression overall highlighted, she added, "is in line with what has been known for some time."

The report did not include data specific to Nassau and Suffolk counties, but according to a color-coded map in the report showing Long Island, which also includes Brooklyn and Queens, the rate of depression ranged from between 10.7% and 19.4%. Statewide, the prevalence of diagnosed depression in 2020 among those 18 and over was 16.7%.

Most states in the Appalachian region — some counties in West Virginia had rates ranging from 24.5% to 31.9% — and the southern Mississippi Valley region had the highest levels of depression, as did Missouri, Oklahoma and Washington state, the CDC report found.

The latest data, said Dr. Victor Fornari, director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Queens, part of Northwell Health, "mirrors the critical experience that depression has been increasing in the general population."

"And certainly the pandemic contributed to that … particularly for the [younger] age group," Fornari added. " … We're in a mental health crisis in our country."

Shari Lubeck, assistant vice president of Children's Mental Health and Wellness at Family & Children's Association in Garden City, said her division has seen admissions for depression increase 24% between 2021 and 2022.

"There was definitely an increase in depression and suicidal ideation and attempts," Lubeck said. She said her agency has "really adapted our approach" to make sure treatments "meet specific needs."

In fact, Fornari said, collaborations among health care providers are ongoing to address the problem, where pediatricians, primary care physicians and internists screen patients for depression and treat them, collaborating with psychiatrists when necessary. 

Highlighting awareness of the issue among the public and the health care community was also ongoing, Fornari said, but challenges remain.

"There will never be enough psychiatrists to take care of the community" so collaborations were crucial, he said.

Additionally, he said the health care community “is being asked to do depression screening” at medical check ups.

“Primary care physicians, more and more are treating depression as part of their care of their patients, Fornari said. "So it’s not uncommon for the primary care physician, whether pediatrician, family physician or internist, to treat depression, usually when it’s mild to moderate."

For anyone struggling with depression, Merlo said they can call the national crisis hotline at 988, or a local provider, or Merlo's organization's hotline at 631-471-7242, extension 2. 

"Things tend to get worse, not better, if they're untreated," she said.

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