By Chelsea Karnash

BALTIMORE, MD (CBS) – New research shows that most people diagnosed with depression do not actually meet the criteria for the illness.

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Researchers at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health looked at a sample of 5,639 people from across the country that had been diagnosed with depression in a non-hospital setting between 2009 and 2010.

Participants in the study were then re-evaluated during a face-to-face interview to see if they met the criteria for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), which includes having at least one major depressive episode (MDE) a year — defined as a debilitating loss of interest in daily life and a depressed mood lasting at least two weeks.

What researchers found is that only 38.4% of participants met the criteria for having had a major depressive episode and therefore, for MDD. Older adults were less likely than younger people to have had a major depressive episode, with only 14.3% of those 65 years or older meeting MDE criteria.

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The study also found, however, that the majority of participants had been prescribed psychiatric medication, whether they had met the criteria for MDD or not. In fact, 69.4% of those with “unconfirmed diagnoses” had used medication to treat their symptoms.

Based on their research, the study’s authors say that depression may be overdiagnosed and overtreated, and there is a need to improve the targeting of diagnosis and treatments nationwide.

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