Although public health is often conceptualized only as the prevention of physical illness, recent data suggest that mental illnesses are increasingly relevant to the mission of disease prevention and health promotion. Projections are that by 2020, depression will be second only to heart disease in its contribution to the global burden of disease as measured by disability-adjusted life years. Also, as the population ages, successive cohorts of older adults will account for increasingly larger segments of the U.S. population. We present the diagnostic criteria for, prevalence of, and risk factors for depressive disorders among older adults; the challenges of recognizing and treating depression in this population; the cost-effectiveness of relevant public health interventions; and the public health implications of these disorders.
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