Global burden of depression in spotlight

Tackling some of the myths about depression could help combat the illness in the same way as cancer or heart disease.

But reducing the stigma alone won’t solve the issue of underfunding according to the ‘Time for united action on depression’ report.

The Lancet and World Psychiatric Association Commission on depression, released on Wednesday, called on a whole-of-society approach to the condition.

Despite evidence that depression can be prevented, the report, co-authored by Helen Herrman from Orygen and Melbourne University and 24 other experts from 11 countries, found five per cent of the adult population around the world were living with the illness each year.

It calls for a collaborative effort between governments, healthcare providers, researchers, people living with depression, and their families to improve care and prevention, fill knowledge gaps, and increase awareness to tackle one of the leading causes of avoidable suffering and premature death worldwide.

“We are hoping that this commission will turn a switch and give people a message of hope,” Prof Herrman told AAP.

“Once there is enough of a community groundswell, a demand for change – that is when change happens.

“If we can tackle some of the myths that depression is the construct of the biomedical fraternity or that it’s the same as sadness or unhappiness then we can start talking about combating it in the same way we tackle cancer or heart disease.”

Changes need to be made at a number of levels to stamp out negative stigmas so the general community can understand that depression is a treatable condition rather than a failing, she said.

Prevention is an important piece of the puzzle, according to Prof Herrman, who says for too long it’s been placed in the too hard basket.

“There’s been skepticism in the public health community over time about whether you can prevent or intervene to make a difference with mental illnesses,” she said.

“There is evidence that we need to promote mental health and safety in families, schools and workplaces and social connections for older people as well, follow through on family violence legislation, and prevent or support people living in hardship.”

It is time to look at depression differently, view it as a preventative condition that can be tackled like other physical illnesses, she said.

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Melissa Meehan
(Australian Associated Press)

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