Depression, top cause of disability worldwide

New WHO data show a huge spike in cases, including in India

February 26, 2017 12:02 am | Updated 12:02 am IST

“The consequences of these disorders in terms of lost health are huge.” Getty Images/iStockphoto

“The consequences of these disorders in terms of lost health are huge.” Getty Images/iStockphoto

More people are affected by depression than any other disease in the world. According to new estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is the largest disability worldwide with the number of people living with depression increasing by over 18% between 2005 and 2015.

Furthermore, over 80% of the disease burden is in developing countries. In India’s case, the total cases of depressive disorders in 2015 were 5,66,75,969 — nearly 5% of population. The total cases of anxiety disorders in the same period were 3,84,250,93 — which is 3% of the population.

The new data, released last week by WHO, shows that depression is ranked as the single largest contributor to global disability worldwide and now was the leading cause of global mental and physical disability. Depression is also the major contributor to suicide deaths, which number close to 8,00,000 a year.

In the long term

Dan Chisholm, author of the WHO study, told reporters in Geneva that the consequences of these disorders in terms of lost health are huge. “If you look at the prevalence of different disorders around the world and you look at the disability that is associated with them — if you combine those together, depression ends up at the top of the list because it is very common,” he says. “You can see one in 20 people in the world have it and then it has quite a high level of impairment or disability associated with it.”

Anxiety disorders refer to a group of mental disorders characterised by feelings of anxiety and fear, including generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Depressive disorders are characterised by loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite and poor concentration. Such disorders include two main sub-categories: major depressive disorders, which involve symptoms such as depressed mood; and dysthymia, a persistent or chronic form of mild depression. The symptoms of dysthymia are similar to depressive episode, but tend to be less intense and last longer.

At its most severe, depression can lead to suicide. Suicide accounted for close to 1.5% of all deaths worldwide in 2015, bringing it into the top 20 leading causes of death. It also was the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds globally that year.

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