January 12, 2014
Depression – A Worldwide Problem
In the UK, and I suspect in other countries, mental health care is often regarded as the “poor relation” when it comes to funding and resources although there is pressure to change this. One thing that might make governments act on the situation is realizing the financial impact or burden on the state of mental illness in all its many forms. This may happen a little quicker following the publication of new statistics regarding depressive illnesses around the world.
There are many forms and degrees of depression but awareness and understanding of this complex of illnesses are improving constantly. But in many people’s minds, and in a lot of press coverage, it is often seen as mainly being a problem of the developed world linked in some way to alienation caused by a lifestyle that is based on western materialistic living. There are even claims that, as several celebrities have been diagnosed with some form of depression including Bipolar Disorder, that it has become some kind of “designer” or “boutique” illness. This is highly damaging to the way depression is understood. This can be a crippling or even fatal illness and it does not matter if you are a superstar or a street sweeper it needs the kind of treatment and support that other “physical” diseases get. New research, however, has thrown this view of depression as a developed world issue right out of the window.
A recent study by researchers in Queensland, Australia, has found that depressive disorders in North Africa and areas of the Middle East are more of a problem than in North America and Europe. Previous studies have assessed the impact of these disorders in terms of Global Burden of Disease (GBD) – a way of measuring the impact of such illness on the countries studied. This had been carried out in 1990 and 2000. The latest report covers diagnosis information gathered up to 2010 and also attempts to calculate the risk “burden” of suicides and ischemic heart disease resulting from depression. One measure they used was “Years Lived With Disability” or “YLD”.
What they found was that, when taken together, Major Depressive Disorders (MDD) and dysthymia (milder forms of depression) were the disease with the second highest burden on society globally. The authors of the report therefore concluded that “These findings emphasise the importance of including depressive disorders as a public health priority and implementing cost-effective interventions to reduce the burden”. They also said that they are a “leading cause of the global disease burden”.
Algeria, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan were the worst affected nations when considering YLD’s. It should be remembered that the data for this study was collated before the “Arab Spring” upheavals and does not therefore reflect the turmoil resulting from the conflicts in this region. The countries that came out best, ie those least affected, were Japan, followed by Australia and New Zealand.
The study also found that women tend to be twice as likely to suffer from depression as men – reinforcing the findings of previous studies – and that the age group most commonly affected was 20 to 24 year olds.
One can only hope that these results feed into long term planning for governments and health departments around the world and eventually lead to more resources being allocated to mental health provision in general.
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