Depression: No Big Problem, Right? Wrong!

How big a problem is depression in terms of diseases? Other health problems such as AIDS, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer are much bigger problems, right?

Wrong. If you look at the impact of depression on disability, very interesting facts emerge. Let me explain how these figures are calculated. Imagine a 20 year old woman develops chronic depression that causes her to be 1/3 disabled for the next 60 years. That means she loses the equivalent of 20 years of life, which is the same as if a healthy woman died at age 60 instead of the normal lifespan of 80.

When disability from depression is calculated this way, the figures are astounding. The World Health Organization looked at this information around the world. They found that by the year 2020 only heart disease will exceed the disability caused by depression. Even in 1990, depression was already the number one cause of disability within the major chronic diseases of midlife. Major depression accounted for almost 20 percent of disability- adjusted life years lost for women in the developed countries. This was more than three times the amount caused by the next illness.

Other studies looked at the impact of depression in the workplace. In the United States this cost is estimated at over 40 billion dollars, which is almost 3 % of the total economy. Being depressed on the job is estimated as the equivalent of calling in sick half a day per week.

Just how common is depression?  There are many studies and they often disagree, but the best studies suggest that about 16 percent of Americans will suffer a major depression over their lifetime. That is almost 1 in 6 Americans. Look around at your friends and family and co-workers, 1 in 6 of them will suffer a major depression. In any given year, between 6-7 percent suffer major depression.

And depression has major health implications. Studies that look at elderly people find that depression increases the risk of death very significantly, independent of suicide. One study found that elderly people who were depressed were 40 percent more likely to die than those who were undepressed. When they analyzed the data to see what the cause was, they found that even when you controlled for all other health behaviors and other factors, depression still accounted for 24 percent increase in deaths. This was the equivalent of high blood pressure, smoking, stroke, or congestive heart failure.

So depression is no big deal? Not unless you consider major disability, huge workplace effects, and shortened life no big deal! In reality, depression is one of the most devastating diseases that human beings suffer.  If you or  someone you love is depressed,  take it seriously and get help!

Copyright 2006 Andrew Gottlieb

All Rights Reserved