20 December 2018
Although an “epidemic” of depression is frequently claimed, empirical evidence is inconsistent, depending on country, study design and depression assessment. Little is known about changes in depression over time in Germany, although health insurance companies report frequency increases. Here we examined time trends in depression prevalence, severity and health-related correlates in the general population.
Data were obtained from the mental health module of the “German Health Interview and Examination Survey for Adults” (2009–2012, n = 3265) and the mental health supplement of the “German National Health Interview and Examination Survey 1998” (1997–1999, n = 4176), excluding respondents older than 65. 12-month major depressive disorder (MDD), severity and symptoms were assessed based on the WHO Composite International Diagnostic Interview. Health-related quality of life (SF-36), self-reported sick days or days with limitations in normal daily life activities were examined, too. Calculations were carried out population-weighted. Additional age-standardized analyses were conducted to account for demographic changes.
Overall, MDD 12-month prevalence remained stable at 7.4%. Women showed a shifted age distribution with increased prevalence at younger ages, and increasing MDD severity. Time trends in health-related correlates occurred both in participants with and without MDD. Mental health disability increased over time, particularly among men with MDD, reflected by the mental component score of the SF-36 and days with activity limitation due to mental health problems. Demographic changes had a marginal impact on the time trends.
In contrast to the ongoing international debate regarding increased depression rates in western countries, we found no increase in overall MDD prevalence in Germany over a long period. In conclusion, increased depression frequencies in national health insurance data and growing health care costs associated with depression are not attributable to overall prevalence changes at a population level. However, shifted age distribution and increased severity among women may reflect a rising depression risk within this specific subgroup, and changes in health-related correlates indicate a growing mental health care need for depression, particularly among men.