NEW YORK -- From Beirut, Lebanon, to Los Angeles to Christchurch, New Zealand, more people than ever before are seriously depressed, and younger people are hardest hit, according to a new report.
"It's not just an American phenomenon," said Myrna Weissman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University's department of psychiatry, who analyzed studies involving 40,000 people in nine countries. "The dramatic shifts in rates of depression are observed all over."
Ms. Weissman has spent decades trying to determine how common mental illness is. Her studies of thousands of people in Los Angeles, Baltimore, New Haven, Conn., St. Louis and Durham, N.C., found that about 8 percent of Americans will suffer major depression at some time and that the risk of depression is greater for each successive age group born since 1915.
In a new study, reported yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, she found the same trends abroad: Overall, depression rates have increased and younger adults are getting sick at higher rates than their elders.
She also found that rates of depression varied drastically depending on events. For example, in Beirut, there was a marked increase in depression between 1950 and 1960, a period of great unrest. During the next decade, with a surge of economic stability, depression began to decline. The Lebanon wars between 1970 and 1980 led to another upswing of depression.
Parisians' rate of depression was high in the 1940s, and kept at bay until the 1970s, when it peaked again. The highest rates of depression were observed in Christchurch, New Zealand, the researchers found. Ms. Weissman does not know why.
The study relied on collaborations with researchers worldwide who surveyed hospital patients and interviewed random community members about their own and their relatives' experiences with depression.