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Depression rates rise over generations.

Rates of severe, often incapacitating depression have increased in each succeeding generation born since 1915, according to the first international study of trends in the frequency of depression.

The magnitude of the elevation in severe, or major, depression varied considerably from one site to another, with some areas also exhibiting short-term fluctuations, possibly in response to local events such as warfare, reports a 40-member "cross-national collaborative group" in the Dec.2 JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION.

Reasons for the jump in depression rates across generations, as well as for variations at different sites, remain unknown, the researchers assert. For now, they maintain, the findings suggest that many countries should mount efforts similar to that of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., which recently launched a program to improve recognition and treatment of major depression in the United States.

It is estimated that at least 9 percent of females and 5 percent of males in the United States suffer from severe depression at some time in their lives.

Two New York City psychiatrists, Myrna M. Weissman of Columbia University and the late Gerald L. Klerman of Cornell University Medical College, organized the new study after noting in 1989 that diverse research methods made it hard to compare data on depression rates from different countries.

They contacted the directors of nine independent population surveys of approximately 39,000 people and three family studies of about 4,000 people. Population surveys originated in Edmonton, Canada; Puerto Rico; Munich, Germany; Florence, Italy; Beirut, Lebanon; Christchurch, New Zealand; Taiwan; Savigny, France; and the United States. The U.S. sample consisted of residents of Baltimore, St. Louis, Los Angeles, New Haven, Conn., and a rural North Carolina county.

The family studies recruited parents, siblings, and offspring of individuals treated for major depression at clinics in Mainz, Germany, and the United States.

Investigators at each site determined depression rates using either of two similar diagnostic guidelines.

Rates of severe depression proved higher in the family studies than in the population surveys, since the disorder occurs more often among biological relatives. Still, both data sources revealed an increasing frequency of depression in succeedingly younger groups.

One exception to this pattern emerged among a subsample of 1,305 Hispanics surveyed in Los Angeles. Older and younger Hispanic groups experienced about the same rate of major depression.

Beirut residents displayed dramatic fluctuations in depression, the researchers note. Those who reached their 20s between 1950 and 1960 and between 1970 and 1980 reported surges of depression that coincided with warfare and social chaos in the area, they point out. Individuals who attained young adulthood between 1960 and 1970, a period of relative calm, reported a declining rate of depression.
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Title Annotation:studies show that younger persons are subject to the disorder more than in former years
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Dec 5, 1992
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