Depression the Leading Cause of ill Health and Disability
Depression is now the leading cause of ill health and disability in the world, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), following a huge spike in the number of people who report living with the condition.
The condition has overtaken lower respiratory disease as the biggest global health problem, with latest figures showing more than 300 million people worldwide have a diagnosis of depression, an increase of more than 18 per cent between 2006 and 2015. The organisation said it hopes the figures will lead to improved availability of effective treatment for the condition which carries a huge human cost as well as costing the world economy billions. WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan, said: “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 that it deserves.”
Dr Skekhar Saxena of the WHO said lack of understanding of the condition and prejudice towards those who suffer from it remain barriers to effective treatment. “For someone living with depression, talking to a person they trust is often the first step towards treatment and recovery,” he said ahead of the launch of the WHO’s “let’s talk” campaign. According to researchers, even in high income countries, nearly 50 per cent of people with depression do not receive treatment and drugs prescribed are often ineffective.
On average, just three per cent of government health budgets is invested in mental health, varying from less than one per cent in low-income countries to around five per cent in high-income countries including the UK.
Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged to create parity of esteem between mental and physical health in the UK, but critics have suggested the motivation is purely economic, with an aim of “fixing” people and finding them fit for work as quickly as possible. But some mental health professionals and campaigners say the human cost of the condition is immeasurable and the focus should not be exclusively on the estimated cost to the economy and on getting people “back to work” because this is not always helpful and can lead to further problems.
According to mental health charities in the UK, mixed anxiety and depression is the most commonly diagnosed mental health problem in the country, with 7.8 per cent of the population meeting the criteria for the condition, which is believed to account for one fifth of all days taken of work. There is a clear link between depression and suicide, which is the leading cause of death in men under 35. The number of unexpected patient deaths reported by mental health trusts in England has risen by 50 per cent in the last three years, according to figures obtained by the BBC under the freedom of information act.
Demand for mental health services has reached an unprecedented level, while funding for mental health services fell by 8 per cent between 2010 and 2015, according to statistics from 43 trusts. Theresa May delivered a much-publicised speech in January pledging to end the stigma around mental health, but did not promise significant extra funding to deal with the surge in demand for treatment.
Words by Rachel Roberts