More Americans are being treated for depression, thanks to a new generation of antidepressant drugs, but experts say the ailment is still underdiagnosed and undertreated in the United States, according to news reports about recent studies.

Outpatient treatment for depression increased threefold between 1987 and 1997, according to an ABC NEWS report on a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

While more Americans are getting help for dealing with the blues, a major shift has occurred away from “talk therapies” such as psychotherapy to drugs introduced in the 1980s like Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil. Americans are reaching for antidepressants about twice as much as they did a decade ago, according to the report.

Major depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States, affecting more than 9 million adults each year, ABC NEWS reported.

Over a lifetime, about 1 in 6 adults–more than 32 million Americans–will experience depression, according to another report in the Kansas City Star.

Besides its effect on individuals and families, depression costs employers $44 billion a year in lost productivity, according to a JAMA study on costs of depression in the workplace. Depression is also the leading cause of suicide.

Researcher Dr. Mark Olfson said educational efforts on the part of the federal government, as well as by health organizations, have helped raise awareness of the illness and encouraged more people to seek treatment.

Advertising for antidepressants has also helped depression lose its stigma, prompting even more individuals to seek help, said Dr. Steven Dubovsky, vice chairman of the department of psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

“No one has done more to destigmatize treatment of depression than the Prozac people and even the Zoloft people with their little cartoon,” Dubovsky told ABC NEWS.

With more people seeking help, however, comes growing concern about misdirected treatment.

“There’s good news and there’s bad news in this [study],” Dubovsky said. “The good news is that there are more people getting treated for depression than there were 10 years ago, but you still have people who are being undertreated in some cases and then others are being overtreated for something they don’t have.”

Both studies, reported in a special issue of JAMA, showed that the illness hits women, the poor and the less-educated more than other groups. The research also found that the illness is more common in young adults than in older ones.

A recent Kansas State University study found that one out of every four college students takes psychotropic medication. The percentage of college students being treated for depression has doubled since 1989, according to the study, as has the number of college students who are suicidal.

The University of Michigan reported that depression among baby boomers in the workplace has also increased.

“Occupational health nurses are seeing more people who suffer from depression in the workplace and they don’t feel prepared to manage it because up until recently, depression in the workplace hasn’t been a focus of workplace health,” Williams told Age Venture News Service.

Symptoms of depression in the workplace include loss of concentration, reduced productivity, loss of interest in work, withdrawal from colleagues, irritability, excessive tardiness, high absenteeism, inaccessibility by phone and staying away from work longer than disability allows, Williams said.

Depression is the most expensive medical cost of all behavioral health conditions, accounting for 52 percent of all claims, Williams said.

Veterans hospitals report higher incidents of depression since onset of the war in Iraq, as more vets drop in to talk about their own war experiences.

It isn’t just an American problem. The number of British youth suffering from depression has doubled in the past 12 years, according to the Guardian. A study by the Joseph Roundtree Foundation blamed the rise on hundreds of thousands of British young people who are being left behind by rising educational levels and prosperity.

The World Health Organization says mental and neurological disorders—ranging form depression to Alzheimer’s and epilepsy—strike 400 million people globally and are expected to rise in the next 20 years,

The United Nations health agency also predicted that by 2020, depression would become the second greatest cause of death and disability worldwide, Reuters reported.

More stressful lifestyles, poverty and violence are all contributing factors. But depression also is often genetic and affects about twice as many women as men.

The Americas and Western Pacific regions—essentially the United States and Japan—log the most cases of depression, Dr. Benedetto Saraceno, director of WHO’s department of mental health and substance dependence, told Reuters.

“The good news is that mental health treatment does not require very expensive infrastructure,” Saraceno said. “We know that 70 percent of those suffering from major depression can fully recover if properly treated.”

Saraceno added that if depressed people were properly treated, suicide rates would also fall. Globally, about 1 million suicides occur annually out of a total of 10 million attempts, he said.

Jodi Mathews is news writer for

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