Paul Latimer column.

Latimer: Depression leading cause of disability worldwide

Kelowna columnist says more than 300 million people around the world are dealing with depression

By Paul Latimer

If someone asked you to name the leading cause of illness and disability around the world, would your first thought be depression? Many would probably name heart disease or cancer – but the World Health Organization has given depression this ignoble title.

According to WHO statistics, more than 300 million people around the world are dealing with depression and rates have increased 18 percent since 2005. WHO says lack of support for mental health and persistent stigma are significant barriers and mean many do not get treatment.

Here and in other wealthy western countries, only about half of depressed individuals seek help. Many who don’t reach out say fear of personal and professional consequences are the reasons they keep quiet.

Unfortunately, in many other countries it is even harder to speak up as there may be little or no support for people with mental illness. With few resources and a lack of public awareness, most struggle alone.

According to WHO, governments in poorer nations spend less than one percent of health budgets on mental health while this can range to about five percent in wealthier countries.

In response to these increasing rates around the world, the WHO has started a “Let’s Talk” campaign aiming to tackle stigma and encourage people to talk with those they trust.

As you likely know, depression is more than simply feeling sad. It is a chronic, recurring condition characterized by persistent low mood, feelings of hopelessness, low self esteem, impaired memory, difficulty concentrating, irritability, anxiety and preoccupation with negative thoughts.

Depression is a systemic condition, which also tends to manifest in some physical symptoms including aches and pains, fatigue, dizziness, insomnia, chest pain, back pain, intestinal complaints, diarrhea or constipation, menstrual dysfunction and headaches.

Left untreated, depression takes a terrible toll on individuals, families and society. In North America alone it is estimated depression costs more than $60 billion every year in direct health costs and lost productivity. Of course the human toll is even more tragic and unmanaged depression can result in suicide.

We are fortunate to live in a time when we are gaining a better understanding of depression, how it works and how to treat it. This improvement and raised awareness in Canada has resulted in some progress in battling stigma associated with depression and other mental health conditions.

What we now need is ongoing focus from governments here and around the world to treat mental health seriously and give it the resources and attention it needs. No one need suffer alone.

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