WASHINGTON, DC, USA — The World Health Organisation says depression affects more people than any other mental disorder and is also one of the world's leading causes of disability.
At the same time, the WHO said that although it is a treatable disease, six out of every 10 people who have depression in Latin America and the Caribbean do not seek or do not receive the treatment they need.
The disorder affects more than 350 million people of all ages around the world, with five per cent of the adult population in Latin America and the Caribbean being affected.
"This is a disorder that can strike anyone at some point in their life, and for which they need to receive psychological and social care and support," according to the Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO) principal adviser on mental health, Jorge Rodriguez.
"In addition to influencing the ill person, depression also affects their family and community around them. In the worst cases, it can lead to suicide. Each year, almost one million people kill themselves in the world, of which around 63,000 are in the Americas. In human terms, it represents suffering and in economic terms it involves considerable costs to families and to governments," said Rodriguez.
According to the WHO, between 60 per cent and 65 per cent of people affected by depression do not receive care, and cited the lack of appropriate services and trained health professionals, especially in primary care, and the social stigma associated with mental disorders as some of the barriers to access to appropriate care.
Depression, the WHO added, is more common in women than in men, adding that between two and four of every 10 mothers in developing countries suffer from depression during pregnancy or after child birth.
"This disease has a good prognosis if it is treated in time and appropriately. Depression can be mild, moderate, or severe, and is caused by a complex interaction of social, psychological, and biological factors. However, we must abandon the idea that all depression needs pharmaceutical treatment. Mild and even some moderate cases can be resolved, basically, with social and family support, brief psychotherapy, or other types of psychosocial interventions that can be provided by primary health care physicians or by community organisations that provide support for people," explained Rodriguez.
PAHO will next week sponsor a three-day regional mental health conference in Panama, where a variety subjects will be discussed, including the assessment of mental health systems in the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, and the first draft of the Global Plan of Action on Mental Health that will be presented at the World Health Assembly in 2013. Participants will include professionals in the field of mental health and other stakeholders from various countries, including representatives from academic institutions, PAHO/WHO collaborating centres, non-governmental organisations, and representatives from consumer and family member movements.
The World Federation for Mental Health initiated World Mental Health Day in 1992, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2012.