Epidemiology of Adult DSM-5 Major Depressive Disorder and Its Specifiers in the United States

JAMA Psychiatry. 2018 Apr 1;75(4):336-346. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.4602.


Importance: No US national data are available on the prevalence and correlates of DSM-5-defined major depressive disorder (MDD) or on MDD specifiers as defined in DSM-5.

Objective: To present current nationally representative findings on the prevalence, correlates, psychiatric comorbidity, functioning, and treatment of DSM-5 MDD and initial information on the prevalence, severity, and treatment of DSM-5 MDD severity, anxious/distressed specifier, and mixed-features specifier, as well as cases that would have been characterized as bereavement in DSM-IV.

Design, setting, and participants: In-person interviews with a representative sample of US noninstitutionalized civilian adults (≥18 years) (n = 36 309) who participated in the 2012-2013 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions III (NESARC-III). Data were collected from April 2012 to June 2013 and were analyzed in 2016-2017.

Main outcomes and measures: Prevalence of DSM-5 MDD and the DSM-5 specifiers. Odds ratios (ORs), adjusted ORs (aORs), and 95% CIs indicated associations with demographic characteristics and other psychiatric disorders.

Results: Of the 36 309 adult participants in NESARC-III, 12-month and lifetime prevalences of MDD were 10.4% and 20.6%, respectively. Odds of 12-month MDD were significantly lower in men (OR, 0.5; 95% CI, 0.46-0.55) and in African American (OR, 0.6; 95% CI, 0.54-0.68), Asian/Pacific Islander (OR, 0.6; 95% CI, 0.45-0.67), and Hispanic (OR, 0.7; 95% CI, 0.62-0.78) adults than in white adults and were higher in younger adults (age range, 18-29 years; OR, 3.0; 95% CI, 2.48-3.55) and those with low incomes ($19 999 or less; OR, 1.7; 95% CI, 1.49-2.04). Associations of MDD with psychiatric disorders ranged from an aOR of 2.1 (95% CI, 1.84-2.35) for specific phobia to an aOR of 5.7 (95% CI, 4.98-6.50) for generalized anxiety disorder. Associations of MDD with substance use disorders ranged from an aOR of 1.8 (95% CI, 1.63-2.01) for alcohol to an aOR of 3.0 (95% CI, 2.57-3.55) for any drug. Most lifetime MDD cases were moderate (39.7%) or severe (49.5%). Almost 70% with lifetime MDD had some type of treatment. Functioning among those with severe MDD was approximately 1 SD below the national mean. Among 12.9% of those with lifetime MDD, all episodes occurred just after the death of someone close and lasted less than 2 months. The anxious/distressed specifier characterized 74.6% of MDD cases, and the mixed-features specifier characterized 15.5%. Controlling for severity, both specifiers were associated with early onset, poor course and functioning, and suicidality.

Conclusions and relevance: Among US adults, DSM-5 MDD is highly prevalent, comorbid, and disabling. While most cases received some treatment, a substantial minority did not. Much remains to be learned about the DSM-5 MDD specifiers in the general population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Comorbidity
  • Correlation of Data
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / epidemiology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders*
  • Ethnicity / psychology
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Class
  • United States