THE BLOG
09/29/2016 03:55 pm ET Updated Sep 17, 2017

The Wisdom Of The Crowd

World Mental Health Day is coming up October 10th, right after Mental Illness Awareness Week, October 5th - 9th. The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks the U.S. as one of the most depressed countries on the planet. American depression rates fall behind only India and China. In an article from U.S. News and World Report, the WHO tracked "quality years of life lost due to disability or death," and reported researchers found the U.S. most affected by not only depression but anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.[1]

The National Institute of Mental Health, from information provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) showed that "in 2014, an estimated 15.7 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. This number represents 6.7% of all U.S. adults." In this study, women had a much higher rate of depression than men (8.2% of women verses 4.8% of men); and younger adults report higher depressive episodes (9.3% of 18-25-year-olds versus 5.2% of those 50-years and older). There was also quite a difference in reported depression percentages between ethnic groups. The lowest reported was Asian at 4.2%, (Hispanic at 5.6%, White at 7.1%, Black at 5.4%, Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander at 6.7% and American Indian/Alaska Native at 6%) with the highest, 12.7%, among those identifying with 2 or more ethnicities.[2]

A major depressive episode was defined as "a period of two weeks or longer during which there is either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure, and at least four other symptoms that reflect a change in functioning, such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration, and self-image."[3] As a therapist, I know this definition intimately, as do multitudes of people I've worked with.

Every year, my clinic fills out a detailed report that is sent to SAMHSA; not names or individual information, of course, but aggregate data that is added to thousands of other agencies and facilities, all coming together to produce a yearly snapshot of the state of mental health in the United States. I wish the snapshot was better but, at least, as professionals, we can help provide data that, hopefully, leads to more effective strategies and therapies for debilitating conditions such as depression.

I'm used to professionals providing data but, recently, I've read about a surprising source of information being used in the fight against depression - what is being called crowd-sourced data. Have you heard of those websites where you can get your genetic profile? You can find out what regions of the world your ancestors came from. You can also opt to answer some pretty specific health questions, the answers to which are linked to your anonymous genetic results. Your information then gets added to a pool of genetic knowledge that scientific researchers have access to.

I've had a genetic profile done. I was interested to find out about my ancestry, beyond anecdotal stories from great-aunts and grandparents. I also decided to participate in the optional research. While answering some pretty personal questions, I admit I got a little queasy. I almost backed out, but didn't. I reminded myself of the anonymity part and figured, well, maybe someone could use the information.

Now, someone has. Through the site 23-and-Me, researchers were able to gain information from people, like me, who said yes to making our small bit of data available; over 300,000 people like me, as it turns out. With this information, some important inroads are being made into unlocking genetic keys to depression.[4]

I've always done my professional best to help those struggling with depression, as well as other mental health disorders. I never thought there could be another way to assist in the fight. Depression is an individual, and global, crisis, which will take all of us to conquer, through whatever, sometimes surprising, ways we can.

Dr. Jantz is the Founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and best-selling author of 35 books. He is a go-to media source expert for a range of behavioral-based afflictions, as well as drug and alcohol addictions.

[1] http://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/articles/2016-09-14/the-10-most-depressed-countries
[2] http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/major-depression-among-adults.shtml
[3] http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/major-depression-among-adults.shtml
[4] http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/v48/n9/full/ng.3623.html