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Depression Now the Number One Cause of Disability Worldwide

depression healthAccording to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is the single largest contributor to disability in the world today, with an estimated 322 million people suffering from its disabling effects. That’s an 18.4% increase in just one decade.

A depressive episode, typically described as a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, problems coping with everyday tasks, and a feeling of persistent sadness lasting two weeks or more, can lead to lost productivity due to an inability to function at work and in daily life. It’s estimated that global economic losses as a result of such lost productivity are in excess of $1 trillion US per year.

Depression, along with anxiety disorders (phobias, panic attacks, OCD, PTSD), have typically been considered diseases of the affluent, but that is turning out to be a false assumption: nearly 80% of those stricken with this type of mental illness live in low and middle-income countries, according to the WHO report.

High Risk for Depression Populations

Youth, the elderly, and pre- and postpartum women are at highest risk of depression, and an estimated 800,000 people die as a result of suicide each year. Unfortunately, due to a combination of a lack of support for those suffering from mental health issues, and the stigma long associated with mental health diseases, nearly half of those suffering do not receive any treatment.

These are staggering statistics, prompting the WHO to launch a year-long campaign aimed at bringing depression out of the shadows of stigma and into the public forum.

According to Dr. Shekhar Saxena, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO, the lingering prejudice around mental illness is the reason they named the campaign ‘Depression: Let’s Talk’. Dr. Saxena believes that encouraging people struggling with depression to talk about it with someone they trust is the first step towards recovery, and the campaign looks to make that easier to do.

However, Saxena goes further to say: “A better understanding of depression and how it can be treated, while essential, is just the beginning. What needs to follow is a sustained scale-up of mental health services accessible to everyone, even the most remote populations in the world.”




Depression Now the Number One Cause of Disability Worldwide

Mike Bundrant

Mike Bundrant is the author of Your Achilles Eel: Discover and Overcome the Hidden Cause of Negative Emotions, Bad Decisions and Self-Sabotage and co-founder at The iNLP Center which offers online certification in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and life coaching.

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APA Reference
Bundrant, M. (2017). Depression Now the Number One Cause of Disability Worldwide. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Apr 2017
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