The Decimating Damage of Depression: Vivid Numbers Plus a Visual


I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would be not one cheerful face on earth. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell. I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible. I must die or be better it appears to me.“~ President Abraham Lincoln

According to the World Health Organization, depression is the single largest cause of disability as measured by Years Lost due to Disability (YLDs), and in 4th place as contributor to the global burden of disease (DALYs).

DALY stands for Disability-Adjusted Life Year, which assesses overall disease burden, taking into account expressed as the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death.

In fact, write WHO, “By the year 2020, depression is projected to reach 2nd place of the ranking of DALYs calculated for all ages, both sexes. Today, depression is already the 2nd cause of DALYs in the age category 15-44 years for both sexes combined.”

Depression occurs in persons of all genders, ages, and backgrounds, although, according to the WHO, 2008, females are 50% more likely to suffer from the illness.

However it knows no economic or cultural boundaries. Depression is the leading cause of disease burden for women in both high-income and low- and middle-income countries (WHO, 2008).

The depressing facts

  • Depression affects about 121 million people worldwide, and
  • Depression is among the leading causes of disability worldwide. However,
  • Fewer than 25 % of those affected have access to effective treatments.

Uplift Program’s newsletter rounds out some more statistics for us.

  • Depressive disorders affect approximately 18.8 million American adults or about 9.5% of the adults in the U.S. in any given year. [Note: this statistic does include bipolar disorder.]
  • At some point in their lives, 1 in 4 Americans will suffer from a depressive disorder, according to Raymond Lam and Hiram Wok in their 2008 book Depression.
  • According to an Australian study, where depression statistics are comparable to those of England and America, “everyone will at some time in their life be affected by depression — their own or someone else’s.”

And it continues to get even more upsetting.

  • By 2020, depression will be the second largest killer after heart disease.
  • “Depression results in more absenteeism than almost any other physical disorder and costs employers more than US$51 billion per year in absenteeism and lost productivity, not including high medical and pharmaceutical bills.”
  • Lam and Wok also say that :
    • up to 15% of those suffering from depression take their lives each year.
    • The total cost of depression in the Untied States are estimated to be $44 billion: $12 billion in direct costs of treatment, $8 billion in premature death, and $24 billion in absenteeism and reduced productivity at work. This doesn’t count out-of-pocket family expenses, costs associated with minor and untreated depression, general medical services that may be more necessary due to the depression, and diagnostic workups.
    • “Depressed individuals have two times greater overall mortality risk than the general population due to direct (e.g., suicide) and indirect (medical illness) causes.”

The “Depression Statistics” Infographic by Healthline is particularly well-researched and illuminating. Take a few minutes to look. . .

Depression statistics infographic


As a dabbler in infographics myself, I’m amazed when designers can get in crucial information, and still make the visual so appealing.

And until reading I didn’t know that the number of people diagnosed with depression was increasing each year by 20%–and I don’t know if it’s a factor of less stigma, better diagnostic tools, greater awareness on the part of primary care physicians. . .no sure.

But I did know that unemployment and divorce (although not the state you lived in!) were correlated with depression, and I’d like to come back to discuss that (“But knowing how way leads on to way. . . ” as Frost warned us. I don’t know. Maybe one day I’ll have time.).

Just to leave off by returning to the figure regarding treatment. Of course some people simply don’t seek treatment because they are ashamed, or feel like failures. But, surprisingly commonly, there’s just no treatment to be had.

The World Federation for Mental Health, in honor of the upcoming World Mental Health Day on October 12, wrote a position paper: “Depression: A Global Crisis.”

They found the following facts on the ground when it came to seeking treatment for depression:

  • In a recent literature review, the researchers found that only 14% of depressed people in Belgium seek treatment within a year of the onset of the illness.
  • A recent study of depression in several Latin American countries found that in Peru, Mexico and Venezuela, most participants with symptoms had never received treatment.
  • [This next one’s true, as absurd as it sounds:} There are 26 psychiatrists for 80 million people living in Ethiopia.
  • As of 2009, there was a “catastrophic” shortage of psychiatrists in the National Health System in England.
  • The US is not immune. The Psychiatric Times wrote in 2010 that America was short 45,000 psychiatrists, and the shortage is only expected to get worse in the near future.

So what we’ve got here, if I’ve got this right, is an illness so debilitating that it’s one of the leading causes for disability worldwide, an illness that is often treatable, or at least well-managed, an illness for which trained practitioners to manage it do exist–and yet, whether due to our own stubbornness, our tremendous lack of resources, our inability to self-motivate, or some other unknown, we feel we can only sit and watch as depression rates increase (particularly among children), as those with depression fall ill with other connected diseases, and as the costs of depression drain country coffers.

To rephrase Lincoln: For the situation “to remain as [it is] is impossible.”

Now. . .what can we do about it?

Leave a Reply