How common is depression?

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Worldwide, depression affects more than 300 million people. Between 6% and 10% of the population will experience a depressive episode in any given year.

Depression is also the fourth leading cause of disability worldwide and, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), it’s likely to become the second most common cause of disability in 2020.

According the South African Stress and Health (SASH) study, the prevalence of depression in South Africa is close to 10%, yet of those experiencing depression in the last year, only 8% sought help from a psychiatrist.

More women than men are affected by depression, with some researchers estimating that as many as one in every four women (25%) will experience a depressive episode during any given year. But there’s a possibility that depression is under-diagnosed in men because of the way in which the diagnostic criteria is structured. What we do know is that at least five times as many men as women commit suicide (although women attempt suicide more often).

Depression is common in people of all ages, but nearly 50% of affected individuals first experience depression between the ages of 20 and 50. The average age when a first depressive episode occurs is 26 years. Although depression can begin in childhood or later in life, this is less common.

Depression tends to present differently in different age groups:

  • Children more commonly present with pain, anxiety, hyperactivity, irritability and diminished pleasure in play
  • Adolescents more commonly present with irritability, outbursts of anger, loss of energy and sleep difficulties
  • Elderly individuals more commonly present with physical symptoms, cognitive symptoms such as problems with concentration and memory, social isolation and poor self-care

Depressive disorders are more likely to occur in people who:

  • Are socially isolated
  • Have no close interpersonal relationships
  • Have uncertain employment
  • Are divorced or separated
  • Have experienced trauma or loss
  • Are abusing substances, especially alcohol

The cost of depression in South Africa
Twenty-five percent of South African employees have been diagnosed with depression, according to a study conducted by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) in partnership with Hexor and Lundbeck.

Depression also costs South Africa a massive R232 billion a year due to lost productivity, which equates to 5.7% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). SADAG and Discovery Health have also published the following stats on depression among South Africans (view the full infographic here):

  • The lifetime prevalence of depression in SA is 9.7%.
  • About 20% of South Africans will experience a depressive disorder at least once in their lifetime.
  • There are 23 known suicides in South Africa every day. For every person who commits a suicide, 10 attempt it.
  • The cost of depression to the country is 42% higher than the value contributed by the tourism industry.

In addition, the SASH Study showed that, on average, a person with depression is unable to fulfill their roles at work for 57 days in the year.

Reviewed by psychiatrist Dr Matthew Mausling, Life Kingsbury Hospital, Claremont. October 2018.

Read more:

- Risk factors for depression

- Treating depression

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