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Depression is the No. 1 cause of illness and disability worldwide: WHO report

June 12, 2017
mental health, depression, therapy, medication, treatment

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The World Health Organization has two words for anyone who’s “Sad!”: “Let’s talk.”

Depression is the no. 1 cause of illness and disability worldwide, the UN’s public health arm said Thursday. An 18% spike from 2005 to 2015 puts the most recent estimate at more than 300 million people.

The WHO’s “Depression: Let’s Talk” campaign, the focus of April 7’s World Health Day, urges sufferers to both seek and get help for depression — especially given the stigma and discrimination associated with it. Typical treatment can include talk therapy and/or medication.

“The current state is that depression is neither being identified nor treated adequately anywhere in the world,” Dr. Shekhar Saxena, the Geneva-based director of the WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, told the Daily News.

In this respect, he says, “all countries are developing countries.” Even in higher-income nations that boast advanced health care systems, nearly half of people suffering from depression aren’t properly identified or treated.

Governments on average allot a paltry 3% of their health budgets for mental health, according to the WHO — a figure Saxena called “quite insufficient.”

What’s more, the worldwide inattention to mental health doesn’t make any dollars or sense. The WHO estimates depression and anxiety fuel a global loss of roughly $1 trillion associated with lost productivity, people being unable to work and health care expenses, Saxena said.

“We suggest that people start talking about depression with their friends, with their family, and with their health care providers,” he said. “Because talking about depression can be the beginning of seeking help and getting help.”

Depression’s most permanent possible consequence, of course, is suicide, which claims about 800,000 lives every year.

“Loss of life is very high, but public concern seems to be much less,” Saxena said.

In the United States alone, about 16.1 million people 18 and up — or roughly 6.7% of adults — had “at least one major depressive episode in the past year” in 2015, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

So how did this leading worldwide cause of disability and illness sneak up on us? According to Saxena, it didn’t: Depression has actually hovered at no. 1 or no. 2 on the list since around 2010, he said, coming in a close second only to back pain.

It has a higher prevalence among people who’ve undergone severe stresses of any kind, the director explained, including wars, natural disasters, and refugee status. Victims of violence and sufferers of chronic illness and disability are also more prone, as are people who consume alcohol.

Article by Meera Jagannathan for The New York Daily News.