Depression: The Hidden Worldwide Illness

What disease do you think holds the most stigma?

Regardless of the fact that millions worldwide are experiencing depression, the disorder is rarely talked about in rich and poor countries alike.

Richer countries naturally have more opportunities to care for the mental health of citizens, but such significant rates could prove that there is insufficient therapy and medication provided for people dealing with depression.

Statistics show that many suffer symptoms of depression without seeking care. Undiagnosed depression can cost governments millions each year.

More economically developed countries with a higher gross national income, including the USA, suffer depressive symptoms on a higher scale than in low to middle class countries.

The World Health Organization estimates that there are more than 350 million people globally (2012). Many sufferers are not receiving any specific treatment for depression. The World Health Organization considers depression to be the fourth leading cause of disability worldwide. It has become an increasingly prevalent global crisis; depression awareness, diagnosis, and treatment are vital in building a healthier, happier world.

For the study, an international team working with the World Health Organization’s World Mental Health Survey Initiative interviewed around 90,000 people in 18 countries in 2011. Mental health was assessed, using the criteria for a major depressive episode (MDE). Language barriers caused difficulties leading to potential inaccuracies, such as interviewees finding recalling the past, and being open with a foreign interviewer, problematic. However it revealed a clear link between the increasing economic status of a country and reported depressive symptoms.

Ten of the countries analysed were labelled as high income. In these studies, it was recorded that, on average, 15 per cent of participants said they had experienced depression. France, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the USA had higher reported rates, at more than 18 per cent each, though other studies have placed this number at more than 30 per cent.

France and America had the first and second highest rates respectively, with approximately 20 per cent of interviewed people having experience of an MDE. These countries also demonstrated the highest levels of medical impairment from depression.

Within the remaining low to middle-income countries studied, the rate was, on average, 11 per cent, with the lowest percentages found in India, Mexico, China and South Africa. Brazil was an anomaly at 18.4 per cent, nearing USA levels.

Though reasons for lower overall rates of depression in poorer countries is unknown, there have been speculations of richer nations having more stressful environments, or that the gap between rich and poor is large in countries with better economies.

Other suggestions to explain the results include ideas of less understanding or knowledge of what defines depression or less tolerance of mental disorders, though these have not been confirmed, or backed up with scientific evidence.

Despite differences between countries of different financial welfare, there are some trends that remain the same. Women were consistently found to be around twice as likely as men to suffer from the mental disorder, and some of the main factors associated with it include divorce and bereavement.

States with higher rates of depression also show higher rates of negative health outcomes like obesity, heart disease, and stroke. Some symptoms include losing interest in things that were previously important to you and feeling hopeless, or helpless. If you recognise warning signs in a friend, loved one, or yourself, it is important to open up a dialogue or get in contact with a professional.

The World Health Organization studies have highlighted the prevalence of mental health as a hidden epidemic amongst teenagers and the elderly alike; it is vital to discuss depression and like diseases more in order to remove the stigma, and thus offer support to people suffering from this life-threatening problem, regardless of age, ethnicity, wealth or gender.

To find out more or get help with depression you can contact The Samaritans on 116123.

Reported by Ezgi Aldemir

BBC School Report