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Depression is Now the Leading Cause of Illness Worldwide

Picture of Nadia Elysse
US Editorial Team Lead
Updated: 30 March 2017
Depression is now the leading cause of illness around the globe and the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a campaign Thursday geared towards helping people cope with the condition. The organization’s “Depression: let’s talk” initiative hopes to target the approximately 300 million people living with depression globally.

“The continuing stigma associated with mental illness was the reason why we decided to name our campaign ‘Depression: let’s talk,’” said Dr. Shekhar Saxena, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO, in a press release. “For someone living with depression, talking to a person they trust is often the first step towards treatment and recovery.”

According to WHO, the number of people living with depression increased more than 18 percent between 2005-15. But only about three percent of government resources, on average, go towards mental health care globally. In poor countries, that number is even lower.

The increase in depression prevalence isn’t surprising considering the mental and physical toll the condition can take if left untreated. Emotional symptoms of depression include feelings of sadness, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, suicidal thoughts, hopelessness, anxiety, and trouble making decisions, according to Mayo Clinic. Physical symptoms include fatigue, aches and pains, sleep disturbances, and changes in appetite.

“These new figures are a wake-up call for all countries to rethink their approaches to mental health and to treat it with the urgency it deserves,” Margaret Chan, the WHO’s director-general, said in a statement.