Psychological Medicine



Incidence of depression in the Stirling County Study: historical and comparative perspectives


J. M. MURPHY a1c1, N. M. LAIRD a1, R. R. MONSON a1, A. M. SOBOL a1 and A. H. LEIGHTON a1
a1 Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital and Department of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA

Abstract

Background. The Stirling County Study provides a 40-year perspective on the epidemiology of psychiatric disorders in an adult population in Atlantic Canada. Across samples selected in 1952, 1970 and 1992 current prevalence of depression was stable. This paper concerns time trends in annual incidence as assessed through cohorts selected from the first two samples.

Methods. Consistent interview data were analysed by a computerized diagnostic algorithm. The cohorts consisted of subjects at risk for a first depression: Cohort-1 (N = 575) was followed 1952–1970; Cohort-2 (N = 639) was followed 1970–1992. Life-table methods were used to calculate incidence rates and proportional hazards procedures were used for statistical assessment.

Results. Average annual incidence of depression was 4·5 per 1000 for Cohort-1 and 3·7 for Cohort- 2. Differences by gender, age and time were not statistically significant. The stability of incidence and the similarity of distribution by gender and age in these two cohorts corresponds to findings about the two early samples. In contrast, current prevalence in the recent sample was distributed differently and showed an increase among women under 45 years.

Conclusions. The stability of the incidence of depression emphasizes the distinctive characteristics of current prevalence in the recent sample and suggests that the dominance of women in rates of depression may have occurred among those born after the Second World War. The results offer partial support for the interpretation of an increase in depression based on retrospective data in other recent studies but they indicate that the increase is specific to women.


Correspondence:
c1 Address for correspondence: Dr Jane M. Murphy, Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, Room 9155, 149 13th Street, Charlestown, MA 02129–2000, USA.


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