Experts call for united action to reduce the global burden of depression

It is estimated that each year 5% of adults globally suffer from depression.

15 February 2022

The world is failing to address the increasingly serious global crisis of depression, experts have said.

It is estimated that each year 5% of adults globally suffer from depression.

But according to a Lancet and World Psychiatric Association Commission on depression, it remains a neglected global health crisis and is most common in young people.

The experts argue that tackling the burden of depression will lead to millions more happier and productive members of society.

Commission chairwoman, professor Helen Herrman from Orygen, National Centre for Excellence in Youth Mental Health and The University of Melbourne, Australia, said: “Depression is a global health crisis that demands responses at multiple levels.

“Investing in reducing the burden of depression will give millions of people the chance to become healthier, happier and more productive members of society, help to strengthen national economies, and advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.”

It is thought that in high-income countries, about half of people suffering from depression are not diagnosed or treated, and this rises to 80-90% in low- and middle-income countries.

While the coronavirus pandemic has created additional challenges which are taking a serious toll on the mental health of millions.

Against this backdrop the Commission Time For United Action On Depression is calling for collaborative efforts by governments, healthcare providers, researchers, people living with depression, and their families to improve care and prevention, fill knowledge gaps, and increase awareness of the condition.

Co-author Dr Charles Reynolds from the University of Pittsburgh, America, said: “We know that most individuals with depression at all stages of life will recover if they obtain adequate support and treatment.

“With sound science, political will, and shared responsibility, depression can be prevented and treated and potentially disabling consequences avoided.

“We must empower people with experience of depression together with families, practitioners, policymakers and civil society to address the tsunami of unmet need—through sharing their experiences to reduce stigma, supporting others with information about the condition and possibilities for help, and advocating for greater resources for evidence-based approaches.”

The experts say there are still many misconceptions around depression including that it is simply sadness, a sign of weakness, or restricted to certain cultural groups.

But they stress depression is a distinct health condition characterised by its persistence, major impact on daily life, and long-term health consequences.

It can affect anyone, regardless of gender, background, social class, or age, and the risk of depression rises in settings of adversity including poverty, violence, gender, racial and other forms of discrimination.

Depression is linked to a wide variety of chronic physical illnesses and at its worst can lead to suicide.

Commission co-chairman, associate professor Christian Kieling from the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil, said: “There is arguably no other health condition which is as common, as burdensome, as universal, or as treatable as depression, yet it receives little policy attention and resources.

“Effective psychosocial and medical treatments are difficult to access, while high levels of stigma still prevent many people, including the high proportion of adolescents and young people at risk for or experiencing depression, from seeking the help required to have healthy and productive lives.”

According to the commission, prevention is the most neglected aspect of depression, and classifying people into just two categories, either they have clinical depression or not, is too simplistic.

They say depression is a complex condition with a diversity of signs and symptoms, severity levels, and duration across cultures and the life course.

The authors recommend a personalised approach to depression, and interventions tailored to an individual’s specific needs and severity of the condition, ranging from self-help and lifestyle changes to antidepressants to more intensive therapies.

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