Depression: A problem as big as Malaria

Many think certain mental illnesses, such as depression, are only an issue in high-income countries. This is wrong.

In poor countries, depression is a problem almost as big as malaria and mentally ill people are often left to their own resources.

If malaria represents 4% of total diseases worldwide, depression, at 3.2%, does not fall far behind.

Notwithstanding, the money being invested in combating depression is only a fraction of that spent in fighting malaria.

In poor countries, Governments spend less than 1% of their national health budgets on mental health issues.

If in developed countries roughly half of the people affected by mental disorders don’t receive appropriate care, in developing countries the treatment gap rockets sky-high to 90%.

Looking at mental health globally, here are some statistics:

  • More than 450 million across the globe suffer from mental illnesses. [WHO]
  • By 2030, depression will be the second highest cause of disease burden in middle-income countries and the third highest in low-income countries. [WHO]
  • Schizophrenia, depression, epilepsy, dementia, alcohol dependence and other mental, neurological and substance-use disorders make up 13% of the global disease burden, surpassing both cardiovascular disease and cancer. [WHO]
  • In the last 45 years suicide rates have increased by 60% worldwide. [WHO] More than 90% of people who kill themselves have a diagnosable mental disorder. [NIH]
  • Suicide is among the three leading causes of death among those aged 15-44 years in some countries, and the second leading cause of death in the 10-24 years age group. [WHO]
  • In the United States, people with severe mental illness die 25 years earlier than the general population on average. [Time] In Denmark, the life expectancy gap has been shown to be as high as 18.7 years with certain disorders. [Psychiatric News] And the differential in life expectancy is believed to be even wider in developing countries.
  • In the UK, 70% of people affected by mental illness experience discrimination, and discrimination is believed to be worse in developing countries. [The Guardian]
  • Mental and psychosocial disabilities are associated with rates of unemployment as high as 90%. [WHO]

But a lot can be done to challenge these statistics worldwide and we are trying to contribute to this change.

In partnership with governments, international organizations, and local communities, we are working hard to integrate mental health into primary health care and to develop strong, lasting, community-based mental health services.