Depression, also known as major depressive disorder, is a mental health disorder that negatively affects how a person feels, thinks, and acts. The Global Health Data Exchange estimates that 251-310 million people worldwide suffer from depression. While depression is common, it is also, fortunately, treatable.
Symptoms of depression
The symptoms of depression can range from mild to severe and include the following:
- A persistent feeling of sadness
- Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite – weight loss or gain
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Loss of energy or increased fatigue
- Increase in purposeless tasks or physical activities such as pacing
- Slowed movements and speech
- Feeling guilty or worthless
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating
- Decreased confidence and self-esteem
- Negative, bleak, or pessimistic attitude
- Self-harmful or suicidal thoughts or actions
Depression risk factors and treatment options
Risk factors for depression include: biochemistry (differences in chemicals in the brain), genetics (depression can be heriditary), perrsonality (those who are generally pessimistic or have low self-esteen are more likely to experience depression), and environment (those who are exposed to violence, abuse, neglect or poverty are more likely to expereince depression).
For depression to be diagnosed, symptoms must last at least two weeks. Some medical conditions, such as thyroid problems or vitamin deficiencies, can mimic symptoms of depression and need to be ruled out. Luckily, depression is one of the most treatable mental illnesses, and those who have been diagnosed have multiple options depending on their diagnosis:
- Anti-depressant medication may be prescribed to help correct and/or stablize one’s brain chemistry.
- Psychotherapy and/or cognitive behavioral therapy are often used to help individuals work through depression. Therapy is often combined with anti-depressants for moderate to severe depression.
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a medical treatment most commonly used for patients diagnosed with severe depression who have not responded to other treatments. It involves a brief electrical stimulation of the brain while the patient is under anesthesia.
Depression Rates Around the World
Depression affects about 1 in 15 adults in any given year, and 1 in 6 people will experience depression at some time in their life. An Our World In Data study estimates about 3.4% (2-6% when including the margin of error) of the global population has depression. This is about 264 million people worldwide. According to WHO estimates, the ten countries with the highest prevalence of depression are:
Top 10 Countries with the Highest Rates of Depression:
- Ukraine - 6.3%
- United States - 5.9% (tie)
- Estonia - 5.9% (tie)
- Australia - 5.9% (tie)
- Brazil - 5.8%
- Greece - 5.7% (tie)
- Portugal - 5.7% (tie)
- Belarus - 5.6% (tie)
- Finland - 5.6% (tie)
- Lithuania - 5.6% (tie)
While countries with high rates of depression appear on almost every continent, it seems the Pacific Islands of Oceania include many of the least-depressed places on Earth:
Top 10 Countries with the Lowest Rates of Depression:
- Solomon Islands - 2.9%
- Papua New Guinea - 3.0% (tie)
- Timor-Leste - 3.0% (tie)
- Vanuatu - 3.1% (tie)
- Kiribati - 3.1% (tie)
- Tonga - 3.2% (tie)
- Samoa - 3.2% (tie)
- Laos - 3.2% (tie)
- Nepal - 3.2% (tie)
- Philippines - 3.3%
Interpreting data on depression
While the numbers listed above (and below) are valuable and vital, it is important to keep in mind that the true rates are likely much higher, especially in less developed countries. Depression is much more likely to be diagnosed in highly developed countries, whose more robust health care infrastructures are far better equipped to identify and treat mental illnesses.
Therefore, less developed countries do not necessarily have less depression—rather, their treatment of mental illnesses often takes a back seat to broader concerns such as hunger, disease, and sanitation. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that 76–85% of people suffering from mental disorders in low- and middle-income countries lack access to the necessary treatment. Moreover, even in developed nations, many cases of mental illness go undiagnosed and unreported because the patients are either ashamed of their illness or unaware that it's a medically treatable condition.
Depression rates are rising around the world, but it's likely that this rise is due at least in part to a good thing: More patients than ever before are seeking and receiving treatment for mental illness rather than going undiagnosed. In many countries, including the United States, the stigma surrounding mental illnesses is gradually decreasing. This enables a more open discussion of mental illness and makes people more likely to seek help when they need it.
A nation’s culture can also have a significant impact on both the mental health of its population and the availability of mental health treatment services. Additionally, certain symptoms of depression are more common in some societies than others due to cultural factors. For example, while depression is relatively uncommon in Japan, suicide rates are high for children and teens ages 10-19. This is most likely due to pressure to do well in school and work and conform to group norms.
An estimated 17.3 million adults in the United States had a least one major depressive episode in 2017. Among those diagnosed with depression, about 65% received treatment. About 50% of U.S. adults diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with anxiety. Oregon, West Virginia, and Maine have the highest depression rates.