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The Director Discusses:  Why a Depression Center?

Photo: John F. Greden, M.D.I’ve been asked many times: “Why a depression center? Why not a schizophrenia center? An autism center?” The latter two also would make great sense, so why did we at Michigan start with a Depression Center? There are many reasons.

Depression is Common
First, depression is common – very common. You probably know someone who is touched by depression.  Around one in every five Americans is affected by depression and bipolar disorder. In the United States, more people suffer from depression, bipolar illness, and other mood disorders alone (21 million people) than coronary heart disease (7 million) and cancer (6 million) combined.  Depressive disorders (which include bipolar disorder and other mood disorders) are prevalent across the lifespan. Children as young as preschool age can be diagnosed with depression, and as many as one in eight teens has clinical depression. Unfortunately, suicide is the third leading cause of death among those between the ages of 15 and 24. While the ages of onset for mood disorders peak between these ages, the highest lifetime risk is among middle-aged adults.  Late life depression is also more common than the overall prevalence of depression. Depression does not discriminate among genders or cultures—it affects everyone.

Depression is Disabling
Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world. Depression is also the second most expensive contributor to soaring health care costs, second only to heart disease. The annual economic burden of depression and mood disorders in this country is estimated to be $83.1 billion.  However, when appropriate mental health services are made available, total health care costs decrease even when the cost of the intervention is included. Depression is a serious mood disorder that can disable millions, cause unnecessary shame, and prematurely end more than 30,000 lives annually by suicide.

Depression Frequently Co-Occurs with Other Illnesses
Depression often co-exists with and affects other mental and/or physical illness. Depression worsens the effects of substance abuse, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders, and vice versa. Treating depression, however, can help people manage their other illnesses and improve their general health.

A Solution – The Nation’s First Depression Center
Due to the overwhelming health and economic burdens related to depression and bipolar disorder, the decision was made in 2001 to launch the nation’s very first comprehensive depression center at the University of Michigan.  Today, more than 200 depression and bipolar faculty and professional staff from 18 University of Michigan schools, colleges, centers and institutes collaborate in conducting research, translating research into clinical care, educating about depressive, bipolar, and related illness, counteracting stigma, and working towards public policy changes.  We hope that you can see why a depression center made sense in 2001, and why we’re proud that our Center continues to serve today as a prototype for others across the nation. I invite you to share your thoughts on “Why a Depression Center?” and I look forward to updating you in future posts on national public policy initiatives that are building upon our efforts.

P.S. I thank Jean Kim, a senior in psychology, for helping me prepare this post.


John F. Greden, M.D.


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