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Depression more prevalent in the western world

According to a new World Health Organization (WHO) study, published on July 25 in the journal of BMC medicine, not only are depression rates significantly higher in affluent nations but cases of major depression are on the rise throughout the world. The study concludes that depression is a severe global problem that will change from being the world’s fourth leading cause of disability worldwide, to being the second leading cause of disability by 2020. But how are we to explain these concerning findings.

The link between affluence and stress

The WHO study found that 15% of people in high income countries were likely to face an episode of depression in their lifetime, compared to 11% of people in low income countries. The highest instances of people that faced clinical depression once in their lifetime was found in France, Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United States. These figures are in stark contrast to countries such as China and Mexico, which were found to have the lowest incidences of depression.

The researchers of the study speculate that stress might be a significant factor in the differences in the prevalence rates. Stress is known to be one of the main triggers of depression, and in nations such as the UK a still growing number of men and women succumb to the pressures that seem embedded in our value system and societal structure. The study found an important gender disparity with regards to depression, with women having a twofold increased risk of having major depressive episodes, which might in part explain why affluent nations, in which women are working and making home, stress and depression are more prevalent.

The stigma surrounding mental illness

Timothy Classen, an assistant professor of economics at Loyola University, Chicago, has studied the link between suicide and economics extensively and told CNN that; ‘There are significant disparities across countries in terms of the availability of social acceptance of mental health care for depression’. In his view, those countries that are placed lower on the depression indicator list, might reflect a stigma surrounding mental illness, preventing the population from getting the treatment that they need. While UK studies indicate that the stigma surrounding depression and other mental illnesses has decreased over the last decade, awareness and education are believed to still be vital in order for people to not suffer in silence.


Regardless of the difference in the prevalence rates of major depression between high and low income countries, the very fact that depression is fast becoming increasingly prevalent globally, is cause for concern. Perhaps these statistics reveal something about our value system. The increased pace of life in not just affluent, but low income countries, along with the escalating digital dependency, might have brought us out of touch with our true needs and our social values. Studies repeatedly find that those that are part of strong social networks, peer groups and feel a sense of connection are less likely to develop depression. Importantly, not all forms of depression are due to stress, or avoided through strong social connections. Major depression greatly impacts on the quality of life and can be greatly debilitating, which is why treatment for depression is vital. By finding the treatment that is right for you, it is possible to manage depression.

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