Depression in Europe

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Depression is treatable, but about 50% of major depressions still go untreated. WHO encourages people who think they may be suffering from depression to seek advice, and reminds doctors to remain vigilant for symptoms. 10 October is World Mental Health Day.

Depression is a major challenge to all health systems in the WHO European Region. Its high personal, social and economic costs and the high proportion of people not receiving any treatment, despite the availability of cheap and effective care, show that this challenge can and must be met.    

Recognize depression – seek and accept help

World Mental Health Day, 10 October 2012, focuses on depression: the leading cause of disability worldwide. Although at least 350 million people live with depression, many often do not want to admit it. Shame and a sense of personal inadequacy are still attached to it. People suffer quietly at work, unable to perform, or go on sick leave, sometimes for long periods.

People with depression can be reluctant to seek help, even though effective treatments are available. This causes unnecessary suffering to them, a high burden on relatives and a high cost to society due to lost productivity.

Depression: main contributor to mental health problems in Europe

One in seven people suffer from a severe mood disorder during their lives. Each year, about 7% of the population suffer from a major depression. This figure rises to over 25% if anxiety and lighter forms of depression are included.

Depression: most common reason for long-term sick leave and disability

Mental disorders account for about 20% of the burden of disease in the European Region, rising to 26% in the countries in the European Union (EU). Depression alone is responsible for about 15% of all days lived with disability. Some countries, such as Denmark and the Netherlands, have reported that up to 50% of long-term sick leave and disability payments are due to mental disorders, mostly depression.

Depression: contributor to noncommunicable diseases

Depression can also lead to high blood pressure, myocardial infarction, stroke and probably, some research suggests, cancer. In turn, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes lead to an increase in depression. The combination of noncommunicable diseases and risk factors is associated with higher suffering and mortality.

Depression: common but overlooked

Depression is present in about 25% of people visiting family doctors, but health care staff often miss it.
About 50% of people with depression do not receive any form of treatment, owing to a combination of treatment avoidance due to shame and denial, a lack of services and/or the inability of staff to identify the problem.

Effective treatment for depression

Antidepressant medications are widely prescribed: annually, about 10% of the adult population take them. Psychotherapies have been shown to be equally effective, and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is popular. Well-evaluated interventions are increasingly available on the Internet, enabling self-help.

The challenge to mental health services is to make effective interventions, provided by competent staff, widely available. People need to feel secure when visiting mental health services, trusting they will receive effective and respectful treatment.