WHO: Depression tops list of causes of ill health (30 March 2017)

Ahead of World Health Day 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) has released new estimates that state the number of people with depression worldwide exceeds 300 million- an increase of 18% over ten years (2005-2015).

Background Information:

Depression is a common mental illness characterized by persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that people normally enjoy, accompanied by an inability to carry out daily activities, for 14 days or longer.

In addition, people with depression normally have several of the following:

  • a loss of energy;
  • a change in appetite;
  • sleeping more or less;
  • anxiety;
  • reduced concentration;
  • indecisiveness;
  • restlessness;
  • feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or hopelessness; and
  • thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

Key Messages:

Lack of support for people with mental disorders, coupled with a fear of stigma, prevent many from accessing the treatment they need to live healthy, productive lives.

Depression increases the risk of substance use disorders and diseases such as diabetes and heart disease; the opposite is also true, meaning that people with these other conditions have a higher risk of depression.

In many countries, there is no, or very little, support available for people with mental health disorders.

Even in high-income countries, nearly 50% of people with depression do not get treatment.

On average, just 3% of government health budgets is invested in mental health, varying from less than 1% in low-income countries to 5% in high-income countries.

Investment in mental health makes economic sense. Every US$ 1 invested in scaling up treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a return of US$ 4 in better health and ability to work.

Treatment usually involves either a talking therapy or antidepressant medication or a combination of the two. Both approaches can be provided by non-specialist health-workers, following a short course of training, and using WHO’s mhGAP Intervention Guide.

Useful Links:

Fact sheet on Depression (updated February, 2017):


Link to WHO’s Depression: Let’s Talk Campaign App:


Link to WHO videos on depression:


Link to WHO Region specific campaign posters:


Link to WHO Handouts on depression:


Link to WHO publication on preventing suicide:


Link to WHO’s Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020:



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