by Steve Crabtree
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- About one in three residents living in the Huntington-Ashland, W.Va.-Ky.-Ohio metropolitan area (32.1%) say they have been diagnosed with depression by a doctor or nurse -- the highest percentage among the 188 U.S. metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) that Gallup and Healthways surveyed in 2010. Of the 11 metro areas where residents are most likely to say they had ever been diagnosed with depression, 6 are in the Appalachian region: Along with Huntington-Ashland are Charleston, W.Va; Knoxville, Tenn.; Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, Tenn.-Va.; Spartanburg, S.C.; and Roanoke, Va.
It's well-documented that poor economic conditions can increase the incidence of stress and mental health problems in a population, which can in turn hamper productivity. This negative cycle may also lead to lower wellbeing among many Americans, as Appalachian communities seem predisposed to a combination of economic and psychological depression.
Depression Linked to Underproductive Days, Low Energy
Another finding from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index 2010 data clearly reflects the link between mental health and personal productivity: Respondents who have been diagnosed with depression report a high number of days in the past month when poor health kept them from doing their usual activities. Depression is more strongly related to unhealthy days than any other specific health condition asked about, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and asthma. Thus, several of the communities on the list of metro areas where diagnosis of depression is most common -- including those in the Appalachian region -- are also among those with the highest average number of unhealthy days among the 188 U.S. cities surveyed last year.
Three of the same communities -- Huntington-Ashland, Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, and Knoxville -- are also among the U.S. metro areas where residents are most likely to say they didn't have enough energy to get things done the previous day. Two other Appalachian communities -- Spartanburg, S.C. and Roanoke, Va. -- join them on this list.
The Huntington-Ashland metro area is particularly noteworthy for its results: Not only do one-third of adult residents say they have been diagnosed with depression, but they also report an average of almost 7 days in the past 30 when poor health kept them from their usual activities. Huntington-Ashland is also high on the list of cities with the highest percentages of obese residents, and ranked near the bottom of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index for 2010. These results correspond with prior assessments of health and wellbeing in the Huntington-Ashland community. A 2008 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked the Huntington-Ashland metro area as the least healthy in the country, based largely on annual state-level surveys.
The Appalachian region's economic woes must be addressed with efforts to attract new industries to many communities where manufacturing, mining, and forestry jobs have dried up. However, the 2010 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index findings imply that for many communities in the regions, poor psychological health may be a significant barrier to growth. New organizations might hesitate to establish operations in a region where energetic, highly productive employees are hard to find.
Community leaders may find that investments in initiatives to improve residents' physical and psychological wellbeing are needed in tandem with economic strategies to turn the current negative mindset around and establish a positive cycle of optimism and growth. Such initiatives might include public health efforts to improve nutrition and increase physical activity -- outcomes that have the potential to elevate residents' physical and psychological health. In places like Huntington-Ashland, soaring rates of depression may need to be directly addressed through public education campaigns and strategies for promoting high levels of collaboration between primary care physicians, mental health professionals, and substance abuse programs.
About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks U.S. and U.K. wellbeing and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit well-beingindex.com.