The verdict is in: depression is now the number one cause of poor health and disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, currently affecting over 300 million people.
The WHO made the announcement on Thursday, reporting that rates of depression have increased by more than 18% since 2005. But a lack of support for mental health, combined with the stigma and fear associated with depression, means that many patients do not get the treatment they need, and are left to suffer silently, Reuters reports.
Margaret Chan, the WHO’s director-general, said in a statement from the agency’s headquarters in Geneva,
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 it deserves.
The organization is running a mental health campaign called, “Depression: Let’s Talk,” to address the issue, and tackle the misconceptions still prevalent on this topic.
Shekhar Saxena, director of the WHO’s mental health department, said, “For someone living with depression, talking to a person they trust is often the first step toward treatment and recovery.”
Depression is a common mental condition with symptoms such as persistent sadness or loneliness, a loss of interest in everyday activities and a lack of ability to perform routine tasks. It likewise raises the risks for other illnesses and disorders, including suicidal behavior, addiction, diabetes and heart disease – the last two already among the biggest killers in the world.
The WHO expressed concern regarding the lack of support for mental health disorders in many countries, saying that only around half of people with depression get treated, even in first-world nations.
On the average, just 3% of government health budgets are normally allotted for mental health. This varies from less than 1% in developing countries to 5% in wealthier ones, the agency said.
Saxena said, “A better understanding of depression and how it can be treated…is just the beginning. What needs to follow is sustained scale-up of mental health services accessible to everyone, even the most remote populations.”