Depression Is Now the World’s Most Widespread Illness

Chances are, you or someone you know has grappled with depression. The global rate of disorder, which the World Health Organization defines as 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,” has risen by more than 18% since 2005, according to the agency.

In 2015, the WHO estimated 322 million people were living with depression, making it the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. Worryingly, if unsurprisingly, the agency found that the majority of those with the condition aren’t receiving adequate care: in high income countries, it estimates 50% of those with the disorder don’t get treatment, while in low-income countries that number rises to 80% to 90%.

In part, this stems from a lack of funding — on average, only 3% of a government’s health budget is spent on mental health programs.

“These new figures are a wake-up call for all countries to re-think their approaches to mental health and to treat it with the urgency it deserves,” Margaret Chan, the WHO’s director-general, said in a statement.

Depression’s impact is financial, as well as psychological. Symptoms include lack of energy, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, substance abuse, anxiety, and thoughts of self-harm, which, while clearly not great for mental or physical health, also take a toll on economic productivity. (The WHO estimates that costs related to the condition add up to $1 trillion annually.)

In the U.S., an estimated 16.1 million adults, or nearly 7% of the population, has experienced at least one major depressive episode in the last year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

While there’s still a stigma associated with the condition, more people are speaking out about their own, individual experiences. Which is an encouraging sign, according to Chan:

“For someone living with depression, talking to a person they trust is often the first step towards treatment and recovery.”

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