It is common to hear people say that certain psychiatric diagnoses are purely a product of our culture—that conditions like depression or anxiety only exist here in the Western world.
Although it is true that different cultures may perceive, or label, mental health in different ways, new research shows that depression and anxiety exist in every society in the world today.
In the world’s most comprehensive studies of depression and anxiety to date, researchers from the University of Queensland recently published data from some 480,000 people in 91 countries.
In the two separate studies, participants were surveyed about clinical depression and anxiety and both conditions were found to be serious health problems around the world.
Non-Western societies reported fewer people with anxiety disorders than in Western countries—10 per cent of people in North America, Western Europe and Australia/New Zealand experience clinical anxiety, compared to eight percent of those in the Middle East and six per cent of people in Asia.
When it comes to depression, the statistics have an opposite trend—more people are depressed in non-Western societies than in Western ones.
Nine per cent of people in Asia and the Middle East experienced clinical depression compared to four per cent of those in North and South America, New Zealand, Australia and East Asian countries.
Perhaps not surprisingly, depression is higher in places where there is conflict (although this is not the case with anxiety).
The lead author for the depression study, Alize Ferrari, did caution that data was difficult to get from some of the lower income countries. She also stated that more research is needed into the methods used for diagnosing depression and measuring its prevalence in non-Western countries as well as how it occurs over the lifespan.
Head researchers from the anxiety study also stated it is tricky to compare mental disorders across different countries and cultures because of the many factors influencing the reported prevalence.
We do know that across cultures, depression and anxiety seem to affect more women than men and that these are chronic health conditions causing significant disability to those who experience them.
Fortunately, there are effective treatments for both depression and anxiety.
Medication and behaviour therapy are the primary treatments although poverty, conflict and lack of trained specialists likely make these difficult to access for people in some parts of the world.
While these mental health conditions certainly are not exclusive to Western societies, we are the places with the best access and fewest barriers to treatment.
If you think you may be experiencing depression or an anxiety disorder, speak with your doctor to learn more. Help is available.