Charting the Depths

Reflections on the science of depression.

Depression is Your Problem Whether You Like It or Not

Depression: Per-Capita the Costliest Health Care Problem

Depression -- as you all probably know -- strikes nearly 1 in 5 people. Depression is painful and destructive, breaking up relationships and breaking dreams in the process. And you may also know the prevalence of depression of depression is rising in the industrialized world. I don't think depression epidemic is too strong a word to describe what is happening.

But maybe you are among the 4 in 5 people, most people, not directly affected, and let's even say that you are lucky and don't even have a spouse, a child, a lover, or a good friend who is seriously affected. For you, depression may just be another scary phrase like Alzheimer's Disease or cancer. As a kindhearted person, you wish the sufferers and caregivers well and you hope someone finds a better treatment soon. In the meantime, you can count your blessings and can consider yourself unaffected.

A new study on health care costs says, "No so fast." Even if you haven't experienced it directly, depression may be hitting you, right in your pocketbook.

When you think of costly health conditions, depression might not be the first problem that comes to mind. A new study in the journal Health Affairs found that of all health conditions--including things like heart disease or cancer--depression accounts for employers' highest per capita medical spending. Depressed employees, making up about roughly 11% of the work force -- spent on average $2,184, or about 48% more on healthcare than their nondepressed coworkers. The Health Affairs study surveyed more than 92,400 employees. The employers administered health assessments through the MarketScan database from 2005 to 2009. Researchers adjusted for age, sex, health plan, location, industry type, and other factors.

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What this means is that depression more than all other conditions disproportionately soaks up health care dollars. Ultimately, insurance premiums that non-sufferers pay reflect what depression has wrought. This outlays mean that employers groaning under a heavier weight of covering their employers. Insurers, as is their wont, will pass on the costs in the form of higher deductables, co-pays, and monthly preimums. For well over a year we have had an national conversation about the affordability of health care and who should provide it. In this anguished conversation, depression has been all but overlooked. If you wonder how we might reduce the cost of care for all, the Health Affairs study is a stark reminder that measures such as reducing the incidence of depression and finding and disseminating more effective and efficient treatments for depression should be very high on top the to-do list. In the absence of new intiatives, depression will guarantee we all pay a price.

Source reference:
Goetzel RZ, et al "Ten modifiable health risk factors are linked to more than one-fifth of employer-employee health care spending" Health Affairs 2012; DOI:10.1377/hlthaff.2011.0819.

 

Learn about our national conversation about depression by following my author page

Jonathan Rottenberg is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of South Florida, where he directs the Mood and Emotion Laboratory.

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