Depression: The Disorder and the Burden

By Reddy, M. | Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, January-June 2010 | Go to article overview

Depression: The Disorder and the Burden

Reddy, M., Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine

Byline: M. Reddy

Depression, the common psychological disorder, affects about 121 million people worldwide. World Health Organization (WHO) states that depression is the leading cause of disability as measured by Years Lived with Disability (YLDs) and the fourth leading contributor to the global burden of disease. By the year 2020, depression is projected to reach second place in the ranking of Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY) calculated for all ages. Today, depression already is the second cause of DALYs in the age category 15-44 years.

Burden of Disease

An estimated 3-4% of India's 100 crore plus population suffers from major mental disorders and about 7-10% of the population suffers from minor depressive disorders. In the southeast Asian region, 11% of DALYs and 27% of YLDs are attributed to neuropsychiatric disease. A review of eight epidemiological studies on depression in South Asia shows that the prevalence in primary care was 26.3%. In the Goa study, the rate of depressive disorders was 46.5% in adult primary care attendees.

The above [Table 1] shows that disability due to depression exceeds disability due to all forms of cancer and diabetes mellitus combined, as well as exceeding the disability due to strokes and hypertensive heart diseases.{Table 1}

The Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study (GBD 1990 Study) launched by the WHO in the 1990s showed that Depressive disorders account for 3.7% of total DALYs and 10.7% of total YLDs. GBD 2000 study (WHO 2001) showed that depression accounts for 4.46% of total DALYs and 12.1% of total YLDs. This clearly highlights a trend of increasing burden of disability secondary to depression.


Depression is associated with high suicidality. About 50% of individuals who have committed suicide carried a primary diagnosis of depression. Because mood disorders underlie 50-70% of all suicides, effective treatment of these disorders on a national level should, in principle, drastically reduce this major complication of mood disorders. Indian union health ministry estimates state that 120,000 people commit suicide every year in India. Also over 400,000 people attempt suicide. A significant percentage of people who commit suicide in India (37.8%) are below 30 years of age. Ministry officials state that majority of those committing suicide suffer from depression or mental disorders.


Exactly 23% of depressed patients report health difficulties severe enough to keep them bedridden. A community sample of patients with MDD demonstrated increased health care utilization in comparison to patients in the general medical setting. Depression is associated with more impairment in occupational and interpersonal functioning in comparison to several common medical illnesses. The cost of depression, particularly the cost in lost work days, is as great as or greater than the cost of many other common medical illnesses.

Maternal and Child Health

Depression also has a large impact on maternal and child well being. A series of studies from South Asia have demonstrated that early childhood failure to thrive, as indicated by undernutrition and stunting of growth in babies under 1 year, is independently associated with depression in mothers. A study from Pakistan shows that babies of mothers who were depressed during pregnancy and in the postnatal period were more than five times at greater risk for being underweight and stunted at 6 months than babies of non-depressed mothers, even after adjustment for other confounding factors like socioeconomic status. Childhood failure to thrive is a major risk factor for child mortality. Depressed mothers are more likely to cease breastfeeding. Depression during pregnancy is strongly associated with low birth weight.


The outcome of depression can be significantly improved by early detection. A wide range of highly effective treatments including antidepressant medications (at a cheaper cost), somatic therapies and psychotherapeutic interventions is available for the treatment of depression. …

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