World Health Day is a global health awareness day celebrated annually on 7 April, sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO). Each year, the celebrations revolve around a specific topic which is considered to be crucial for global health. This year’s theme is “Depression: Let’s talk”. The corresponding campaign is aimed at raising awareness of the fact that despite depression being a treatable mental disease, about 50% of major cases still go untreated. Many affected people are prevented from seeking and getting the help they urgently need to live healthy lives. This can be traced back to a combination of avoidance of treatment due to denial or shame, a lack of services and/or the inability of staff to identify the problem.
The facts and figures highlight the importance of increasing the recognition of depression as a serious issue in today’s societies. Depression is a common mental illness characterized by persistent sadness and the loss of interest in activities that people normally enjoy that lasts more than 14 days, paired with the inability to carry out daily tasks. It is the leading cause of disability and ill health worldwide. The WHO estimates that around the world, 300 million people of all ages are currently living with depression. This constitutes an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015. Generally, more women are affected by depression than men.
Despite the fact that Europe has the highest concentration of psychiatrists per 100,000 worldwide, many countries in the region have a troubling percentage of inhabitants affected by mental illness. According to WHO studies from the European Region, 27% of the adult population has experienced at least one mental disorder in the past year, with an estimated 83 million people being affected. Among them are around 40.27 million people who are suffering from depression. More than 5% of women in the region are affected, compared to around 3.5% of the male population.
Mental disorders account for about 20% of the burden of disease in the European Union, this percentage is even higher when only taking into account the European Union, with statistics rising up to 26%. Depression alone is responsible for approximately 15% of all days lived with disability. In some countries, such as Denmark and the Netherlands, have reported that up to 50% of long-term sick leave, as well as disability payments, are due to mental disorders, mostly depression.
Not only does depression severely impact the happiness and the productivity of people who are suffering from it, but this can also result in losing the will to live. According to the WHO, depression is an important risk factor for suicide in the European Region. In high-income countries, 90% of suicides can be attributed to mental illness, very commonly depression. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in young people. Despite this data, only 13 European countries are known to have a national suicide strategy.
Many people with depression can be reluctant to seek help, even though effective treatments exist. This causes unnecessary suffering to them, puts a burden on their relatives and social contacts and negatively impacts society as a whole. Psychotherapies have proven to be highly effective and antidepressant medications are broadly prescribed, about 10% of the adult population take them each year.
Mental health services are faced with the challenge of making effective interventions, provided by competent staff, widely available. The WHO emphasizes that more investments in the sector are therefore necessary all across the board. People suffering from depression need to feel secure when seeking help, trusting they will receive adequate and attentive treatment.
Op-ed by Vytenis Andriukaitis, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety and Zsuzsanna Jakab, Regional Director of the WHO Regional Office for Europe.
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