The World Health Organisation (WHO) says depression is now the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide.
According to the organisation, more than 300 million people are now living with depression, an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015.
Depression is a common mental illness characterised by persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that people normally enjoy.
It is accompanied by an inability to carry out daily activities for 14 days or longer.
People with depression usually have several of the following, a loss of energy; a change in appetite; sleeping more or less; anxiety; reduced concentration; indecisiveness; restlessness; feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or hopelessness; and thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
WHO says people who suffer from depression do not seek treatment because of lack of support and the fear of stigma, so there is a need to address issues around prejudice and discrimination.
“The continuing stigma associated with mental illness was the reason why we decided to name our campaign Depression: let’s talk,” said Shekhar Saxena, director, department of mental health and substance Abuse at WHO.
“For someone living with depression, talking to a person they trust is often the first step towards treatment and recovery.”
Worried about the new statistics relating to depression, Margaret Chan, WHO’s director general said “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,” says Margaret Chan, WHO’s director-general.
Links between depression and other diseases
WHO says it has identified strong links between depression and other noncommunicable disorders and diseases.
According to the organisation, “depression increases the risk of substance use disorders and diseases such as diabetes and heart disease; the opposite is also true, meaning that people with these other conditions have a higher risk of depression.”
The organisation also says depression is also an important risk factor for suicide that claims hundreds of thousands of lives each year.
“A better understanding of depression and how it can be treated, while essential, is just the beginning. What needs to follow is sustained scale-up of mental health services accessible to everyone, even the most remote populations in the world,” says Saxena
Governments must increase spending on mental health
WHO says there is a need for governments, worldwide, to increase spending on mental health as in many countries, including high income countries, there is little or nor support for people with mental health disorders.
“Even in high-income countries, nearly 50% of people with depression do not get treatment. On average, just 3% of government health budgets is invested in mental health, varying from less than 1% in low-income countries to 5% in high-income countries,” says WHO.
“Investment in mental health makes economic sense. Every US$ 1 invested in scaling up treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a return of US$ 4 in better health and ability to work.
“Treatment usually involves either a talking therapy or antidepressant medication or a combination of the two. Both approaches can be provided by non-specialist health-workers, following a short course of training, and using WHO’s mhGAP Intervention Guide. More than 90 countries, of all income levels, have introduced or scaled-up programmes that provide treatment for depression and other mental disorders using this Intervention Guide.”