Late last week (March 30th), the World Health Organization (WHO) released a powerful statement from its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, declaring depression “the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide.” WHO estimates that more than 300 million people worldwide are now suffering a diagnosable depression. This reflects an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015.
Dr. Margaret Chan is the WHO Director-General, and she has been a strong advocate for a public education campaign to encourage more people to get the help they need. She said, “These new figures are a wake-up call for all countries to re-think their approaches to mental health and to treat it with the urgency that it deserves.”
April 7th is World Health Day, and WHO will highlight its “Depression: Let’s Talk” campaign, encouraging people to begin to talk openly about their depression and start to get the help they need.
When I wrote Depression is Contagious, I focused on the same theme I address in my clinical trainings: depression is far more a social problem than a medical one. The rapid rise of depression in just a few years reflects the chaotic world we live in, evidenced by our individual and collective higher levels of distress in many life arenas.
Medicalizing depression has done a great disservice to people by misleading them into thinking the problem is in their neurochemistry rather than their circumstances and their depressing perspectives about their circumstances. The scientific evidence has grown exponentially in recent years that makes it clear we need to do much more to help people than drug them with medications of questionable safety and efficacy.
Therapists have a special and vital role to play in addressing the social contagion of depression. To fulfill that role, therapists will need to be far more proactive in doing more than just treating individuals who are already depressed, important as that is. They must also be proactive in challenging the limitations of the biological view of depression when it ignores a social viewpoint and strive to help create social conditions that empower people. Without an awareness of the many ways our relationships create vulnerabilities to depression, we run the risk of trying to empty the depression ocean with only a bucket of misguided hope.
Here’s the link to the news release from WHO: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2017/worldhealthday/ en/