WHO Report: Depression Is Leading Cause of Disability Worldwide

Woman wrapped in shawl outsideAccording to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is now the leading cause of disability and ill health worldwide. The report surveys worldwide mental health and points to mental health issues as a serious public health threat.

Though depression has been a leading cause of disability for several years, the report highlights a recent surge in diagnoses. From 2005-2015, depression rates around the world increased by 18%.

Depression and Disability

The report, which was released in anticipation of World Health Day on April 7, is part of the WHO’s “Depression: let’s talk” campaign. The year-long campaign is an attempt to reduce stigma, spur discussion, and encourage innovative in-person and online events that address mental health issues.

At least 322 million people worldwide experience depression, with nearly 800,000 people dying by suicide each year. More than half of people with depression—even in wealthy countries—receive no treatment, according to the report. In poorer countries, fewer than 10% of people with depression may receive adequate treatment. Depression costs the world economy an estimated $1 trillion each year.

Stigma, inadequate resources, and provider unfamiliarity with mental health are listed in the report as major barriers to treatment. People with depression often do not receive an adequate diagnosis, while those without depression may be incorrectly diagnosed and prescribed unnecessary antidepressants.

Depression can increase the risk of physical health problems, including heart disease. People with physical health issues are also more vulnerable to depression.

The WHO Report: a Call to Action

The report urges a reduction in stigma and discrimination against those with mental health issues, and the WHO hopes its “Depression: let’s talk” campaign will spur conversation about how to reduce stigma. The report also calls for a significant increase in spending on mental health programs.

Governments invest an average of 3% of their budgets in mental health, but the report suggests investing more in mental health is a wise investment. For every dollar invested in the treatment of depression and anxiety, there is an economic return of at least $4 due to improved health and productivity.


  1. Depression. (2017, February). Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs369/en/
  2. “Depression: let’s talk” says WHO, as depression tops list of causes of ill health. (2017, March 30). Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2017/world-health-day/en/
  3. Reddy, M. S. (2010). Depression: The disorder and the burden. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 32(1), 1. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.70510
  4. Williams, J. (2017, March 31). Depression has increasingly become the leading cause of disability. Retrieved from http://www.newsweek.com/depression-around-world-leading-cause-disability-577591

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  • Ron


    April 7th, 2017 at 9:58 AM

    nah we always seem to have the funds to bump up the military on an as needed basis, but for education and healthcare, especially mental health care? Not so much :/

  • Melissa


    April 11th, 2017 at 1:44 PM

    I need more info on this please! I am very depressed

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    April 11th, 2017 at 8:08 PM

    Hi, Melissa. If you would like to consult with mental health professional, please feel free to return to our homepage, https://www.goodtherapy.org/, and enter your zip code into the search field to find therapists in your area. If you’re looking for a counselor that practices a specific type of therapy, or who deals with specific concerns, you can make an advanced search by clicking here: https://www.goodtherapy.org/advanced-search.html

    Once you enter your information, you’ll be directed to a list of therapists and counselors who meet your criteria. From this list you can click to view our members’ full profiles and contact the therapists themselves for more information. You are also welcome to call us for assistance finding a therapist. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time; our phone number is 888-563-2112 ext. 1.

  • trent


    April 12th, 2017 at 6:57 AM

    You would think that since this is a growing problem worldwide that we would begin to see much more positive intervention and treatment in this area. Unfortunately it seems that this is never quite the priority that so many of us know that it should be.

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