Depression World’s leading Illness. What’s Next?

Depression now leading cause of illness

A new report from the World Health Organisation shows that Depression is the world’s leading illness. These shocking findings come after increased reporting of  disease. Over 300 million people now live with the disease. With a huge health and financial cost, the WHO hopes that new research into the condition is forthcoming. For those with the debilitating condition, new treatments could not come soon enough.

Depression around the world

The new report shows that Depression has now overtaken ‘Upper Respiratory Tract’ infection in its prevalence. The common condition is seen in all age groups but finds a greater hold in women, poverty, unemployment and poor education status. The disease is often associated with anxiety, heart problems, cancer and stroke. At worst there is an increased risk of suicide, especially in young men using alcohol and other drugs.

The condition is experienced differently across cultures. Diagnosis using western definitions may incorrectly assume a global similarity in the cause. ‘’Cultural factors’ such as early stress exposure, expectation and religion all contribute to different experiences. What may cause depression in one country may not in another. For example, more ‘negative’ emotions are considered commonplace in Asian cultures.

Global Burden demands treatment

With over 300 million people with depression, treatment must improve. WHO estimates suggest that for every 1 dollar spent on research there is a 4 dollar profit in work and health. With a cost of £8.6 billion pounds a year in the UK (2009) and 8.8 million work days lost, the burden is great. Up to 15% of people with depression will commit suicide.

The treatment itself is of mixed success. But depression is a chronic disease and treatment is often lifelong. New and more successful treatments are demanded. The WHO hopes this new research will convince drug companies to place more importance on treating the illness.


Depression is described as a psychiatric disorder of mood. The condition runs in families and there is evidence of a genetic link. However, its argued that the cause is more complex and includes psychological, cultural and social factors.

Patients are diagnosed when expressing a cluster of symptoms over time. These may include poor mood, lack of interest, low energy, change in appetite, anger, sleep disturbance and social withdrawal. Depression is classed as mild, moderate or severe. Severe depression can be associated with psychotic symptoms. These include hallucinations and delusions, as well as an increased risk of suicide.

If you want to learn more about depression, click here.

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Sources and Further Reading

Any opinions above are the author’s alone and may not represent those of his/her affiliations. Any comment is based on the best available evidence at the time of writing.  All data is based on externally validated studies unless expressed otherwise. Novel data is representative of the sample surveyed. Online recommendation is no substitute for seeing your own doctor and should not be taken as medical advice.


About drbmjanaway (16 Articles)
Doctor and author with an interest in neurology, evolutionary biology and public health communication

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