Blue Cross Study: RI Highest in U.S. For Major Depression Diagnoses

May 14, 2018

A new report by Blue Cross Blue Shield shows Rhode Island has the highest rate of diagnosis for major depression in the country.

Major depression -- characterized by persistent sadness and trouble performing routine daily activities – is second only to high blood pressure in its impact on overall health for Americans covered by commercial insurance, according to Blue Cross.

Nationally, nine million Blue Cross customers were diagnosed with major depression in 2016, an increase of 33 percent from 2013, the report said.

In Rhode Island 6.4 percent of Blue Cross customers were diagnosed with major depression in 2016, compared with an average of 4.4 percent nationwide, according to the report.  Rhode Island’s diagnosis rate for major depression was highest among women (8.5 percent) followed by millennials (6.3 percent), mirroring a national trend.

The findings are consistent with other studies, including The Truven Report, published in 2015, which showed Rhode Island leading New England in rates of mental health and substance abuse disorders.

Rhode Island’s high concentration of population in its core cities is one possible factor, said Dr. Matthew Collins, a vice president at Blue Cross in Rhode Island.

“If you look around our region, we’re actually exactly the same in terms of depression -- and it’s really a frequency of diagnosis – but we’re the same as New London. We’re not that different from Springfield.’’

The rate of major depression diagnoses for the Providence-Warwick-Pawtucket metro area is 6.4 percent, compared with 6.3 percent for New London, CT, according to the report.   The rate for the Springfield, MA metro area is 6 percent.

Other factors contributing to the discrepancies between states could be related to whether or not they have mandatory mental health screenings, providers who are attuned to recognizing the signs and symptoms of depression, and their racial makeup, said Dr. Trent Hayward, chief Medical Officer of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

“Oftentimes we see higher reported rates in majority populations than we do with Hispanics and blacks,” Hayward said. “So right now we can’t say definitively what’s causing the differences.”

Blue Cross will do more analysis of the data, he said, to understand what’s behind the discrepancies.

Meanwhile, Collins said, Rhode Island is working to improve its mental health treatment.  “We have the intellectual brain power, the will and the resources and have already established a lot of the groundwork that would help us to address this issue,’’ he said, adding, “I don’t want Rhode Islanders to be discouraged by this.’’