Depression: research reveals true scale of the problem

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The number of people suffering from depression in China is probably higher than people think.

According to incomplete statistics from 2010, depressive disorder had already become the condition with the second largest number of Years Lived with Disability (YLD).

However, for a long time, due to the lack of nationally representative epidemiological data on depressive disorders, especially the use of healthcare services by adult sufferers, relevant departments can only formulate policy decisions and plans through mathematical models, which can lead to large errors and uncertainties.

Establishment of CMHS

In 2012, the China Mental Health Survey (CMHS) was officially established. Through the multi-stage probability sampling method, a cross-sectional epidemiological survey of mental disorders in Chinese adults was completed in 157 nationally representative disease surveillance sites across 31 provinces in China.

CMHS focuses on research on the prevalence and disease burden of common mental health disorders, collects feedback on the use of health services by patients with such disorders, and analyzes related factors that affect their prevalence, condition burden, and service utilization.

The organization provides a scientific basis and theoretical support for departments to formulate relevant prevention and control strategies for mental disorders and resource allocation for mental health services.

Professor Huang Yueqin’s research

Based on CMHS data, Professor Huang Yueqin and her team from the Sixth Hospital of Peking University conducted a detailed study on the prevalence of depressive disorders and the utilization of mental health services in China, and published their research results in the Lancet Psychiatry on Sept 21, 2021.

The study collected data from 28,140 respondents who completed the Composite International Diagnostic Interview 3.0 (CIDI 3.0) interview, focusing on the specific treatment of the respondents with depressive disorders in the past 12 months, and the evaluation results of the Sheehan Disability Scale (SDS), and analyzed the age-sex-residence distribution data of the national census.

The team found that the distribution of depressive disorders in China is characterized by the prevalence of cases among females, the unemployed, the separated, widowed or divorced. Treatment rates were generally low.

The prevalence of depressive disorder among the respondents did not appear to be impacted by levels of education, place of residence, and region.

In terms of comorbidities, 759 (41.1 percent) of the 1947 patients also met at least one other CIDI or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) assessed in the CMHS diagnosis, including anxiety disorders (29.8 percent), substance use disorders (13.1 percent), and impulse control disorders (7.7 percent).

Among the 744 respondents suffering depressive disorder in the past 12 months, 574 people (75.9 percent) had at least one social function of SDS dimension (family responsibility, work, interpersonal relationships, social life) because of the influence of depressive disorder deficiencies. Among them, patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) (32.8 percent) had the most severe role impairment.

Health service utilization and access to adequate treatment for depressive disorders is low.

Among the 1007 respondents who had suffered from depression in the past 12 months, 84 (9.5 percent) had received psychiatric treatment, comprehensive departmental treatment, treatment provided by social services, and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

Only 12 people (0.5 percent) received adequate treatment; that is, prescribed any antidepressants or mood stabilizers for more than 30 days; or received more than eight psychotherapy sessions in mental health institutions, each with an average length of 30 minutes.

The research provides the first nationwide data on the epidemiology, clinical severity, dysfunction, and treatment of depressive disorders in the domestic population. It explains how mental illness affects the public and provides a scientific basis for the formulation of macro health policies.