Depression Is the Leading Cause of Poor Health and Disability Worldwide

This is a wake-up call on global mental health.

More than 300 million people around the globe are currently living with depression, making it the “leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide,” according to World Health Organization estimates released today. That marks an 18 percent increase in depression rates between 2005 and 2015.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

The estimates were released in anticipation of World Health Day on April 7th, where WHO will continue to promote their year-long “Depression: let’s talk,” campaign, which encourages people suffering from depression to seek help. “These new figures are a wake-up call for all countries to re-think their approaches to mental health,” WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said in this press release.

A big part of that wake-up call focuses on destigmatizing the conversation around mental illness, as many people suffering don’t seek the help they need because they don’t feel comfortable coming forward. “For someone living with depression, talking to a person they trust is often the first step towards treatment and recovery,” said Dr. Shekhar Saxena, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO.

Increasing access to treatment is another priority. Many places around the world offer little or no support for mental health, and even in high-income countries where depression isn’t considered taboo and treatment options may be more readily available, “nearly 50 percent of people with depression do not get treatment,” per the WHO estimates.

There are “strong links” between depression and other serious health mental and physical health issues, as the press release describes, including increased risk for substance abuse, suicide, diabetes and heart disease. But if all of these reasons aren’t enough incentive to address mental health , consider the economic angle: For every U.S. dollar invested in treating depression and anxiety, the press release reports, there’s a return of $4 in overall health and work capacity. A separate WHO-led study also found that failure to address mental health could result in “a global economic loss of a trillion U.S. dollars every year.”

If we want this upward trend in depression rates to stop, widespread and comprehensive action is required. As Saxena says, “What needs to follow is sustained scale-up of mental health services accessible to everyone, even the most remote populations in the world.”

Read the entire press release here.