Measuring the Cost of Undiagnosed Depression

DEPRESSION AFFECTS AS MANY AS 9.5 percent of all Americans, but only about one-third of those affected seek treatment, according to the National Institutes of Health. A 2005 study found that in 2004 no more than 33 percent of insureds with major depressive disorder and 37 percent of insureds with dysthymia (chronic depression) reported receiving treatment during that same time period from a mental health specialist.

The health care, employer, and societal costs of depression, sadly, are considerable. Based on 2000 data, the total annual cost of depression was estimated to be $83.1 billion, with $26.1 billion (31 percent) being spent on medical costs, $5.4 billion (7 percent) relate to suicide (death) costs, and $51.5 billion associated with workplace expenses, including absences and loss of productivity.

Despite its high cost and prevalence, depression often goes undiagnosed or isn’t diagnosed in a timely manner. Results from a survey conducted between 2001 and 2003 show that the median delay from the onset of depression to the beginning of treatment was estimated to be eight years for major depression and seven years for dysthymia. While the post-diagnosis costs of depression have been studied widely (including research we completed on the high costs of insureds with co-morbid chronic medical conditions and depression) the literature
isn’t as robust on the costs for health care and absence from work during the period between the initial onset of the disease and its subsequent diagnosis. A better picture of those costs can point to potential areas for savings in the realm of behavioral health care.

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