Depression affects more people than any other mental disorder and is also one of the world’s leading causes of disability. Although it is a treatable disease, six out of every ten people who have depression in Latin America and the Caribbean do not seek or do not receive the treatment they need.
On World Mental Health Day, which is held annually on the 10th of October, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) joined with the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) to increase awareness about this disorder that affects more than 350 million people of all ages around the world.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, depression affects 5% of the adult population. “This is a disorder that can strike anyone at some point in their life, and for which they need to receive psychological and social care and support,” according to the PAHO/WHO Principal Advisor on Mental Health, Jorge Rodríguez.
In addition to affecting the ill person, depression also impacts on their family and community around them. In the worst cases, it can lead to suicide. “In human terms, it represents suffering, and in economic terms, it involves considerable costs to families and to governments,” said Rodríguez.
“Depression: A Global Crisis” is the theme chosen for this year, to advocate for recognizing the disease and addressing it. Because of the stigma suffered by people with depression, many persons hide it or do not talk about it and even avoid treatment. WHO prepared a campaign that includes pamphlets and a video on “the black dog of depression,” to call attention to this public health problem.
The lack of appropriate services and of trained health professionals, especially in primary care, as well as the social stigma associated with mental disorders, are some of the barriers to access to appropriate care, in addition to the need for boosting capacity for the identification and early treatment of depression. Depression is more common in women than in men. Between two and four of every ten mothers in developing countries suffer from depression during pregnancy or after childbirth.
This disease has a good prognosis if it is treated in time and appropriately. Depression can be mild, moderate, or severe, and is caused by a complex interaction of social, psychological, and biological factors. However, “we must abandon the idea that all depression needs is pharmaceutical treatment. Mild and even some moderate cases can be resolved, basically, with social and family support, brief psychotherapy, or other types of psychosocial interventions that can be provided by primary health care physicians or by community organizations that provide support for people,” explained Rodríguez.
The World Federation for Mental Health initiated World Mental Health Day in 1992, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2012.
Mental health and depression in numbers