Today, depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States. Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) alone affects more than 15 million Americans, and costs more than $210 billion annually in direct and indirect expenses, a number that climbed more than 20% over just five years. And we barely understand it.
Depression is a devastatingly complex disease. It impacts how those who suffer from it think, feel, and act in ways that are specific to every individual patient, and often runs in opposite diagnostic directions: Some people living with depression sleep too much, some can’t sleep at all; some eat too much, some can barely muster an appetite; some become anxious and restless, some experience delays in speech, movement, and clarity of thought. Regardless of their specific tangle of symptoms, if you’ve ever known someone struggling with depression, you know that they are not just shouldering an extra weight of sadness: they are fighting for motivation, for energy, for focus, and, in a tragic number of cases, to hold on to life itself.
As both a medical community and a society aspiring to achieve better health, we have a lot of work to do to deal with depression. Today, far less than half of people living with depression seek medical care for their disease, and studies show that as many as two-thirds of those who do seek care don’t achieve remission with their first anti-depressant. This means only a small fraction of people living with depression are actually able to effectively manage their disease.
This is unacceptable, and it’s why, while there are dozens of anti-depressants available, we need to continue to drive scientific research to better understand the multitude of distinct forms of depression, including Major Depressive Disorder, and to drive pharmaceutical research to develop more focused therapies. Equally important, as under-treatment leaves millions of people suffering in silence, it’s why we need to better educate patients and those around them about the many facets of this disease.
That’s why Lundbeck and Takeda Pharmaceuticals are together spearheading a petition to expand people’s understanding of depression by asking popular dictionaries, including Dictionary.com and Oxford Dictionary, to consider including Major Depressive Disorder and all of the symptoms associated with it in their dictionaries.
We know that people living with depression are often the first to recognize and research their own symptoms. With that in mind, if bringing our dictionary definitions of depression in line with the reality of the disease ushers even one person out of the shadows, it would be a worthwhile effort.