Depression is leading cause of disability worldwide, says WHO study

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Health Assured team

03 April 2017

Report a ‘wake-up call’ for countries to rethink approaches to mental health, says agency, revealing that cases have grown by almost 20% in a decade.

Fear of stigma prevents many people from seeking help, says the report. Initiatives such as the Heads Together campaign, supported by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, hope to help tackle fear around mental health issues.

Cases of depression have ballooned almost 20% in a decade, making the debilitating disorder the leading cause of disability worldwide, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said. By 2015, the number of people globally living with depression, according to a revised definition, had reached 322m, up 18.4% since 2005, the UN agency said on Thursday.

“These new figures are a wake-up call for all countries to rethink their approaches to mental health and to treat it with the urgency that it deserves” WHO chief Margaret Chan said.

According to the agency’s definition, depression is a “persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that people normally enjoy, accompanied by an inability to carry out daily activities for two weeks or more”. Lack of energy, shifts in appetite or sleep patterns, substance abuse, anxiety, feelings of worthlessness and thoughts of self-harm or suicide are also common and can affect entire families.

The drop in productivity, and other medical conditions often linked to depression, also takes a financial toll, with the global cost estimated at $1tn annually, the WHO said.

Excerpt from The Guardian, read the full article here.


Depression is a serious clinical illness. Health professionals use the terms ‘depression’, ‘depressive illness’, or ‘clinical depression’ to refer to something very different from the common experience of feeling down, miserable, or fed up, for a short period of time.  

“I often have little interest or pleasure in doing things.” 

The feeling of depression is much more powerful and unpleasant than the short episodes of unhappiness that we all experience from time to time. It goes on for much longer. It can last for months rather than days or weeks.

Most people with depression will not have all the symptoms listed here, but most will have at least five or six. You:

  • Feel unhappy most of the time (but may feel a little better in the evenings)
  • Lose interest in life and can’t enjoy anything
  • Find it harder to make decisions
  • Can’t cope with things that you used to
  • Feel utterly tired
  • Feel restless and agitated
  • Lose appetite and weight (some people find they do the reverse and put on weight)
  • Take 1-2 hours to get off to sleep, and then wake up earlier than usual
  • Lose interest in sex
  • Lose your self-confidence and feel useless, inadequate and hopeless
  • Avoid other people, feel irritable
  • Feel worse at a particular time each day, usually in the morning
  • Have suicidal thoughts

Take care, it is common for us to not realise how depressed we are because it has come on so gradually. We may be determined to struggle on and can often blame ourselves for being lazy or feeble. Other people may need to persuade us that it is not a sign of weakness to seek help.


When should you seek help?

  • When your feelings of depression are worse than usual and don’t seem to get any better.
  • When your feelings of depression affect your work, interests and feelings towards your family and friends.
  • If you find yourself feeling that life is not worth living, or that other people would be better off without you.

It may be enough to talk things over with a relative or friend, who may be able to help you through a bad patch in your life. If this doesn’t seem to help, you probably need to talk it over with your family doctor. You may find that your friends and family notice a difference in you and are worried about you.  

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