There are lists that people, organizations, and even states want to be on … and those they don’t. Nobody wants to claim the title of the most depressed state in the United States.
Many factors can cause depression such as brain chemistry, genetics, stress, and even environmental factors.
The Most Depressed States in the U.S.
So how does the clinical diagnosis of depression factor into a state being ranked for depression?
Much of this has to do with the number of diagnosed depression cases, but it also has to do with the state itself. Factors such as health, job opportunities, and drug prevalence play massive roles in the numbers of depression.
Often these factors are interrelated.
Unemployment leads to higher drug problems and health problems. Unemployment can lead to higher crime rates, which almost always revolve around drugs.
More than any other outside factor, drug use is often linked to depression.
Drugs alter brain chemistry. Even if the change is only temporary, any change can have long-term effects on how the brain processes different stimuli and how addiction is created.
- West Virginia
This list is pulled from several sources and is based purely on the number of reported cases of depression reported by medical professionals.
As we stated above, many factors play into depression.
When we look at depression on a state-by-state level we have to look beyond the clinical diagnosis of depression and understand that we cannot assume that there is a sweeping internal factor.
Instead, we are forced to consider outside factors that may play into a person’s tendencies toward depressive episodes.
Roughly 1 in 4 citizens of Oregon suffers from depression. According to CDC reports, depression rates increased by 9% over five years.
Experts and politicians in the state point to the weather coupled with ‘homelessness, lack of health insurance, and poverty are the most likely candidates for causing depression.
The economy is not one of the contributing factors as the income has increased by about 4.4%, despite the current recession.
One factor that cannot be ignored is drug use. In 2020, Oregon decriminalized drugs. Overdoses rose by 33% while drug treatment remains the same. In addition to the rise in drug use, crime rates have risen accordingly.
Living in high crime-rate areas raises stress levels and makes depression more likely.
Sitting just below Oregon at a 24.62% depression rate, West Virginia has a history of self-reliance. This flies in the face of healthcare professionals who promote mental health as important as physical health.
With much of the state existing in rural, secluded areas, healthcare providers are stretched thin.
This lack of access to medical professionals leads many individuals suffering from mental health issues to try to self-medicate. Whether they use drugs or alcohol to counter their mental state, this road leads to overdose and other substance-related health issues.
The largest outside factor at play is the state’s economy. It is relatively stagnant and ranks 45th out of the 50 states.
With few economic prospects, many people in the state exist in a level of hopelessness that easily spirals into depression.
Maine is a state divided. With much of the southern portions of the state an extension of Boston’s urban sprawl, there is a clash with the deep rural sectors of the northern half of the state.
Maine sits on the depression charts at 23.52%.
They are making efforts to counter this number and have dropped almost 4% and have boosted their access to mental health care to number 5 in the country.
Maine’s economy is solid, however, weather and isolation are an issue that often leads to drug abuse. Fentanyl is the most deadly of the drugs on the market and has led to an increase in overdoses of nearly 10%.
Arkansas has seen a 4.65% increase in the depression rate, bringing them to 23.2%.
While drugs and the economy have something to do with this increase, reports indicate that the pandemic played a huge role in boosting these numbers.
Experts predict these numbers will drop in the coming years as the state’s functions return to normal and the stressors of lockdowns and mandates are eliminated.
Once again we return to the Appalachian area. Similar to West Virginia, Kentucky has deep rural areas that avoid outside influence and tend to preach self-reliance in all things.
Their depression rate is at 22.84% and is roughly holding steady there.
With their economy still low, much of Kentucky exports workers to surrounding regions. There does appear to be some hope on the horizon for the state as they are tracking a general downward trend in depression rates.
Oklahoma jumped nearly 7% to a 22.70% depression rate this year.
Their rates are slightly higher than the national average, but experts seem to indicate the large jump in numbers can be correlated to the pandemic.
With a growing economy and an eye for controlling the drug problems facing the rest of the country, Oklahoma seems poised to drop this year’s depression rate.
Slipping in at a 22.64% depression rate, Alabama saw a huge surge this year. They increased by 12.68%.
According to studies, much of this jump is the in the U17 age bracket. Alabama cites social isolation as being the leading cause for such a massive jump in depression within the state.
The pandemic made getting adequate mental health care a challenge for many of the rural parts of the state.
While Vermont has the best mental health care in the country, they are still in the top ten for depression rate. They clock in at 22.64%. There was a drop from last year, but they still have more than 1 in 5 of their citizens suffering from depression.
Overall, Vermont boasts a solid economy and a relatively low drug problem compared with other states. With their focus on mental health treatment, they are on the right path.
Last year Tennessee was in single digits for depression rate and then jumped 17.76% to land at 22.36%.
This increase has been attributed to the pandemic.
Contrary to the rest of Appalachia, Tennessee has maintained a strong economy and has seemed to have a better handle on the drug problem. This may be attributed to a smaller population in rural areas.
Back to the cloudy climes of the Pacific Northwest. Here the weather is often cited as a source of depression and it plays a part.
Washington rates a 22.22% depression rate.
They are in the middle of the road for drug use and appear to be working to provide solutions for addiction problems.
What Causes Depression?
Depression centers on the brain. As the saying goes, all roads lead to Rome, everything about ourselves ultimately leads back to the brain. Whether we are talking about actual chemical imbalances, external stimuli, or even relational occurrences, everything around us ultimately finds its way into our brains.
As more research is being done on brain function, we are beginning to understand how depression works.
Granted, it is unlikely we will fully unlock all the little details of depression any time soon.
New studies are pointing to the ultimate root of depression being linked to neurotransmitters that are not fully connected. The use of antidepressants is shown to help create new links in the brain and elevated moods are the result of these new connections being made over several weeks.
So, if depression is dependent on our brain’s internal connection, what exactly causes it?
- Brain Chemistry – Each brain is unique. It releases different amounts of chemicals into our bodies to help control different reactions. Sometimes our brains can release or produce too little serotonin or dopamine. These chemicals can lift mood and help motivate an individual. When the brain produces an insufficient amount of these chemicals it can lead to sadness and a lack of interest in common activities.
- Hormones – As the body goes through life changes, such as puberty, pregnancy, or menopause, hormones can alter the production of chemicals in the brain. As we said above, those chemicals can change brain chemistry and lead to depression.
- Biological Differences – As doctors and scientists have studied depression they have uncovered a few physical traits that line up with the diagnosis. Depressed individuals often have significantly smaller portions of the brain. There is also a lot of evidence to point to women being almost twice as likely to suffer from depression than men.
- Inherited Traits – Lastly, what is passed down genetically can often indicate a predisposition for depression. Studies show that a person with depression in their family is 2 – 3 times likelier to develop depression themselves.
There are also outside factors that can contribute to depression, but these are not universal. Stress and environmental factors can push one person toward depression and cause another person to buckle down and take an alternate route.
There is no 100% rule on this one.
Childhood abuse, emotional and physical neglect, and high-stress incidents can play a part, but the genetics and state of the brain have more to do with a person’s reaction to these life stressors.
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- Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School. What Causes Depression. 2022. Available at health.harvard.edu.
- Cambridge Dictionary. All roads lead to Rome. 2022. Available at dictionary.cambridge.org.
- The Jackson Laboratory. Happy or SAD: The chemistry behind depression. 2015. Available at jax.org.
- Nature. The hormonal keys to depression. 2022. Available at nature.com.
- Mayo Clinic. Depression in women: Understanding the gender gap. 2019. Available at mayoclinic.org.
- Stanford Medicine. Genetics of Brain Function. 2022. Available at med.stanford.edu.
- World Population Review. Most Depressed States 2022. 2022. Available at worldpopulationreview.com.
- KVAL. New report shows Oregon leads nation with highest rates of depression. 2020. Available at kval.com.
- Economic Forecast. Economic Outlook. 2022. Available at oregon.gov.
- US News. Almost Heaven, but Not for Mental Health. 2021. Available at usnews.com.
- IBIS World. West Virginia – State Economic Profile. 2022. Available at ibisworld.com.
- Susan Collins. Maine’s Overdose Epidemic “The worst it’s ever been.” Senator Collins Cites UMaine Researcher, Presses for Solutions to Opioid Crisis. 2022. Available at collins.senate.gov.
- KFF. Mental Health in Arkansas. 2022. Available at kff.org.
- Kentucky Health News. Even with Kentucky’s anxiety and depression rates dropping since January, the state still ranks ninth for this measure in the U.S. 2021. Available at ci.uky.edu.
- Oklahoma’s News 4. Is Oklahoma one of the most depressed states? 2022. Available at fkor.com.
- Montgomery Advertiser. Anxiety and depression weighed on Alabama kids from early days of COVID. 2022. Available at montgoveryadvertiser.com.
- VB Vermont Biz. Vermont top 10 in rate of depression. 2019. Available at vermontbiz.com.
- KFF. Individuals Reporting a Major Depressive Episode in the Past Year. 2020. Available at kff.org.
- Auburn Examiner. Where Does Washington Rank Among National Depression Rates? 2022. Available at auburnexaminer.com.
- The Center Square. Washington State ranked 23rd in the Nation for Drug Use. 2022. Available at thecentersquare.com.