Why do we stigmatize and ignore depression

Despite its huge impact on health and society, depression is still stigmatized and neglected worldwide, and it should receive more attention, argues an editorial in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

“On a global scale, [the burden of depression] is greater than that of diabetes or tuberculosis,” writes Dr. Kirsten Patrick, Deputy Editor, CMAJ. “TB and malaria, with lesser global burden, get official WHO [World Health Organization] global public health ‘days.’ Not depression. In high-income countries, only ischemic heart disease and stroke cause more disability than unipolar depression.”

Despite high-profile cases like the recent death of Robin Williams, depression does not seem to be a priority, although it affects people of all socioeconomic levels in rich and poor countries.

“We are not alone in asking why mental illness is such a low priority worldwide, in spite of coordinated efforts to destigmatize mental illness in recent years,” writes Dr. Patrick.

Depression, a disease that primarily affects people in their working years, can affect ability to function, can result in missed work days and is linked to increased risk of long-term physical conditions. The substantial negative social and health impact should not be ignored.

Dr. Patrick urges that we need greater awareness overall of the devastating impact of depression on society and should make concerted investments to make it easier for people to be treated for depression. We also need to dedicate resources to finding better treatments because many currently available treatments are ineffective.

“In Canada, we need to stop treating depression as a Cinderella disease. We need to fund research that can make a difference to people with depression. The federal government must make a commitment to improving mental-health infrastructure nationwide. Health practitioners ought to be able to connect patients identified as depressed with adequate support and appropriate treatment without delay.”

“Although substantial resources are needed, the high cost of depression to individuals, families and society justifies the expense. But such resources will only receive priority if we all decide to pay more positive attention to depression,” Dr. Patrick concludes.

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