depression causes disease

WHO: leading cause of illness worldwide is now depression

On March 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement from their world headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland that “Depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide.” This is a shocking announcement.

Probably most of us would have guessed smoking or heart disease or cancer was the biggest cause of ill health and disability, but no. The WHO also noted that, while the rate of cancer and heart disease is falling in many countries, that the rate of depression has risen more than 18% in the ten-year period from 2005 to 2015.

Depression is expensive for governments

The WHO advises that countries worried about their budgets should start thinking about what depression costs them. Depressed people are less likely to find work or be productive in their work; more likely to miss work; more likely to get physically sick (and use expensive health resources); get addicted to alcohol, heroin and crack, fueling more crime and even more expense (and fear) for everyone.

Investing in mental health is a wise investment

The WHO says that for every USD 1 invested in treatment for depression and anxiety gives a return of USD 4 in “better health and ability to work”. So for governments to invest in mental health resources is a smart investment. But while mental health professionals understand this, politicians are moving in the other direction, and, during times of budget deficits, are often moving to cut budgets for mental health. This is exactly the wrong approach. More resources, not less, should be invested in mental health, or countries will suffer even more budgetary problems related to health costs.

Few people are being treated

Because many governments believe that mental health is a luxury, most people, especially those without the financial resources, are not receiving the help they urgently need. The WHO estimates that in high-income countries, only about 50% of people who need treatment get treatment. In lower income countries, the rate is much lower.

Why depression causes illness and disability

The WHO report notes that not only does depression increase the rate of substance abuse disorders (alcohol, drugs) and suicide, but also strongly contributes to a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes. One of the principal triggers for many chronic diseases is depression and anxiety. Mental distress can either start or worsen many conditions; many experts believe that even cancer, from a depressed immune system, can in many cases have mental distress as a contributing factor.

Symptoms of depression

The WHO says “people with depression normally have several of the following: a loss of energy; a change in appetite; sleeping more or less; anxiety; reduced concentration; indecisiveness; restlessness; feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or hopelessness; and thoughts of self-harm or suicide.”

Depression is very treatable

If you or someone close to you is depressed, the WHO suggests the first approach for treatment and recovery is to talk to someone you trust. And while starting an exercise program can help many people with depression, usually treatment requires talking to a mental health professional, or taking medications, or a combination of both.

It’s time that all of us—individuals and governments—wake up to this issue and take action. It is costing us too much money and too much personal suffering.

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