Depression: Leading Cause of Disability Worldwide

When it comes to health issues numbers can be distracting and deceiving. Numbers in the form of statistics can minimize the humanity those numerals represent. Even the breath-taking statistics such as the fact that more than 300 million people globally are living with depression may be an underestimate.

Depression, a mental health issue, is characterized as a mood disorder that stems from chemical imbalances within the brain. It is a disorder that has physical origins the same way that diabetes or heart failure does. As is true with many mental health issues or illnesses, there are a number of misconceptions about what depression is, who it affects and how it can be treated.

With approximately 1 in 20 people currently living with depression, there is a good chance that you, or someone you know, is affected. Depression is not something a person can just “snap out of” at will. It can affect men, women and children without regard of race, age or socioeconomic status. Women are more likely than men to have this mood disorder, with a 70 percent greater likelihood than men.

The Human Toll of Depression

Although there is no accurate way to measure the individual toll the many symptoms of depression takes, it is known that the cognitive, mental and physical manifestations of this mental disorder can interfere with all aspects of a person’s life. From personal feelings ranging from inadequacy to lowered self-esteem, interpersonal relationships with family and friends often suffer, as does performance at work and in leisure-time activities.

The most drastic effect of untreated depression is suicide, with almost 800,000 people’s deaths resulting from suicide the world over each year. In the age group of those 15-years-old to 29-years-old, suicide is the second highest cause of death.

The Economic Toll of Depression

In the United States alone, depression and its far-reaching effects was estimated to have costs in excess of $210 billion per year to society. This figure doesn’t include what individuals with depression lose in income due to reduced income from days lost at work, expense of treatment or any of the other issues that manifest as a result of the mood disorder.

In the flip side, the World Health Organization reported that despite the prevalence of depression, which has risen by 20 percent globally in one decade, governmental budgets worldwide have dedicated a mere 3 percent to mental health research and care – despite a proven return of $4 for each $1 spent on depression and anxiety.

What Can We Do to Make a Difference?

The World Health Organization has designated its theme for the year as “Depression: Let’s Talk,” announcing its campaign to increase awareness of mental health disorders in general and depression specifically on World Health Day, April 7, 2017.

“Let’s Talk” acknowledges that many times, it is the care and concern of trusted friends or family members show toward someone experiencing symptoms of depression that can begin to turn the tide for that individual, making the difference between feeling valued and accepted versus feeling ostracized or ashamed because of his/her symptoms. This can also be the first step toward someone with untreated depression recognizing the need for treatment of their symptoms, perhaps beginning with discussion with his/her primary health care provider.

In addition to personal involvement, as concerned citizens and voters, each of us can support mental health initiatives within our communities, states and countries.

Overall, we can help to reduce the stigma that is so often a detriment to those with mental disorders acknowledging their illnesses, speaking about them with others or seeking treatment. We can do this by becoming more familiar with mental health issues. Knowledge reduces fear of what we don’t know or understand and allows us to be more compassionate with those who are living with depression, anxiety or any of many other mental health conditions.


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