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Depression affects about 280 million people worldwide

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By Linda Searing, The Washington Post February 27, 2022 at 9:00 a.m. EST

Depression affects about 280 million people worldwide, including about 5 percent of all adults, according to data from the World Health Organization and a report from the World Psychiatric Association Commission, an international research group. The commission describes depression as “one of the leading causes of avoidable suffering and premature mortality in the world” and labels it a neglected global health crisis.

In the United States, an estimated 21 million adults, or about 8 percent of those 18 and older, are living with depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that roughly 11 percent of all physician office visits and emergency department visits are related to depression.

Though most everyone feels sad or gloomy from time to time, depression — what the medical world refers to as depressive disorder or major depression — goes beyond simple mood fluctuations. Rather, such feelings as sadness, hopelessness or low self-worth, loss of interest in usual activities, sleep problems and lack of energy persist for two weeks or more, interfering with a person’s everyday life. Genetics, chemical changes in the brain and stressful events are among factors believed to be responsible for depressive episodes.

Left untreated, depression can have devastating effects. But treatment — which may include such approaches as talk therapy, medication, exercise, light therapy or acupuncture — can ease symptoms and help prevent a recurrence. However, the World Psychiatric Association Commission report, published in the Lancet, notes that about half of people suffering from depression in high-income countries are not diagnosed or treated, a number that increases to as much as 90 percent of those with depression who live in low- and middle-income countries.

Linda Searing


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