Report examines depression's impact [document]

FILE - In this Monday, Dec. 5, 2016 file photo, a 19-year-old transgender teen, who declined to be identified because she feared for her life after receiving death threats earlier in the year at a halfway house, poses for a photo in Texas. Advocates say the nation's juvenile detention centers are largely ill-equipped to house transgender young people, leaving them vulnerable to bullying, sexual assault, depression and suicide. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Depression's negative impact on the health of commercially insured Americans is significant, according to a new report from the BlueCross BlueShield Association.

Using insurance claims data from 42 million customers, BlueCross looked at factors like prevalence, health care spending, losses from disability and risk of premature death and determined that high blood pressure is the only condition that hits Americans harder than major depression.

The report found more than 9 million commercially insured Americans have major depression, and the diagnosis rate for the disease increased 33 percent from 2013 to 2016.

The diagnostic rate in the Chattanooga region was 5.5 percent, slightly higher than the national rate of 4.4. The metropolitan service area with the lowest rate of depression was Laredo, Texas, at 1.5 percent, and the highest rate was Charleston, West Virginia, at 6.8 percent.

Dr. Judith Akin, behavioral health medical director at BCBS of Tennessee, said a key reason why depression is so detrimental to one's health is that an overwhelming majority - 85 percent - of individuals with major depression have other serious or chronic conditions.

Depression affects adolescents, millennials and women at higher rates, and stigma, access to treatment, the opioid epidemic and economic factors all could contribute to the geographic disparities, Akin said.

"There's some real barriers to getting care, and the community that you live in will have cultural differences in how comfortable they are about disclosing what's going on in their emotional world," she said.

She compared depression to three other common chronic conditions: high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis.

"If you took care of your arthritis and your high blood pressure, but you didn't take care of your blood sugar, you're not going to live as long," she said. "Your brain is an organ, and we look at [depression] now in a much more medical way."

While the report highlights the severity and growing prevalence of depression, Mindy Brown, a certified therapist at Parkridge Valley, said it also points to several positive trends in behavioral health.

"Maybe with that conversation coming more to light, more people are feeling comfortable seeking treatment," she said, adding that changes to diagnostic standards for depression and more Americans having insurance through the Affordable Care Act and access to care could be contributing to the higher rates.

Brown also emphasized that new medications and research into brain development mean treatment for major depression has come a long way.

"It's important for people to recognize that they are not defined by their diagnosis," she said, "and as much as you're getting treatment in other areas, make sure that you're treating the emotional side. We need to keep our whole bodies healthy and focus on the whole person."

Contact staff writer Elizabeth Fite at or 423-757-6673.