Depression is common
...but indeed treatable
New research published in the journal PLOS Medicine has revealed that depression is the second leading cause of disability worldwide. Despite its prevalence, most people do not receive the care or support they need.
Stigmas associated with depression and poor access to treatment are major obstacles in seeking the necessary help. The initial symptoms of depression often present at a young age and affects women more commonly than men.
“Our findings not only highlight the fact that depressive disorders are a global health priority but also that it is important to understand variations in burden by disorder, country, region, age, sex and year when setting global health objectives,” says the researchers.
One or two mothers out of 10 report depression after childbirth. This depression often limits a mother’s ability to care for her child and negatively affects their growth and development. Yet, many are in denial or spouses prevent them from seeking help. This causes depression to remain hidden —not treated or talked about.
“The burden is different between countries, so it tends to be higher in low and middle income countries and lower in high income countries,” says Dr Alize Ferrari, lead researcher from the University of Queensland’s School of Population Health.
“What one person recognises as disabling might be different to another person and might be different across countries as well, there are lots of cultural implications and interpretations that come in place, which makes it all the more important to raise awareness of the size of the problem and also signs and how to detect it.”
Recognising the disease burden of depression, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently launched awareness campaigns amongst policy-makers to combat the problem.
“It’s a big public health challenge and a big problem to be reckoned with but not enough is being done, says Dr Daniel Chisholm, a health economist at the department for mental health and substance abuse at the WHO.
“Around the world only a tiny proportion of people get any sort of treatment or diagnosis.”
The prevention and early detection of depression are areas that deserve attention. Many prevention programmes implemented across different demographics have provided evidence that depression can not only be effectively treated but also prevented.
Effective community approaches look to reduce risk factors while strengthening protective aspects. Risk factors often start in childhood and school-based programmes that target cognitive, problem-solving and social skills of children and adolescents have been found to be highly effective.
Other lifestyle choices also play a role in the development of depression such as poor diet, physical inactivity, lack of sleep and the use of alcohol and tobacco. Exercise programmes are highly effective to boost self-esteem, balance depression-causing hormones and prevent other health conditions that can lead to depression.
Dr Cory Couillard is an international health columnist that works in collaboration with the World Health Organisation’s goals of disease prevention and global health care education.
Views do not necessarily reflect endorsement.
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