Depression Is Now The Leading Cause Of Ill Health & Disability

By Victoria Kim 04/04/17

The World Health Organization says too many cases of depression go untreated.

A person with depression sitting alone in a dark room.

The World Health Organization is calling on governments worldwide to invest more in mental health support, while reporting that the rate of people living with depression rose 18% between 2005 and 2015.

Depression affects over 300 million people, the UN public health agency said in a March 30 press release. It’s now the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide.

In the United States, about 16.1 million adults—or 6.7% of adults—had at least one major depressive episode during 2015, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

The WHO, which launched the campaign "Depression: Let’s Talk" to fight the stigma associated with mental illness, says there’s not only a health benefit to treating depression but a major economic benefit as well.

Worldwide, the economic loss from depression is said to be $1 trillion every year. In the U.S., the CDC estimated that the economic burden of depression was over $210 billion in 2010. 

The economic burden is incurred by a combination of health and welfare costs to governments, loss of workplace productivity, and ultimately the effect this has on families and households that are dependent on working individuals.

Putting more money into getting people help “makes economic sense,” said the WHO in the press release. Currently, governments both rich and poor are not meeting this need. 

As a result, even in high-income countries, nearly half of people with depression don’t get treatment. It’s a serious issue that deserves attention. “These new figures are a wake-up call for all countries to re-think their approaches to mental health and to treat it with the urgency that it deserves,” said Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO.

Addressing and treating depression would have a wide-ranging impact. WHO identifies “strong links between depression and other noncommunicable disorders and diseases,” including substance use disorders, diabetes and heart disease. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of suicides each year.

Excessive drinking is often associated with mental health problems including depression and anxiety as well as substance use disorders and eating disorders, according to the CDC.

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