Too Few of Us Get Adequate Treatment for Depression

Photo by Noah Silliman

Photo by Noah Silliman

If you’re coping with depression and you’ve taken steps to get help, you deserve to feel proud of yourself. For one thing, it’s not always easy to build up the courage, motivation and resources to get help, so taking that step is worth celebrating. For another, you’re part of a worryingly small group.

Researchers at King’s College London, Harvard Medical School and the World Health Organization (WHO) recently published a study examining global rates of depression treatment. They looked at 4331 people with depression across 21 countries, and found that the vast majority weren’t getting what they defined as minimally adequate treatment. For the sake of the study, that was considered to be at least one month of medication in conjunction with four or more visits to a doctor, or at least eight visits with any relevant professional — religious or spiritual advisors, social workers, counselors, and so on.

In the wealthiest countries they looked at, only one in five people with depression reached that minimum level of treatment. That includes the USA, Japan, Germany and many others. If that sounds low, it gets worse in the low income countries researchers looked at, where as few as one in 27 people with depression received that level of treatment.

There are social, systemic and financial reasons that people don’t get the help they need, but awareness and stigma are also serious problems. It may seem like awareness initiatives are everywhere, but even so, people aren’t getting the message that depression is both treatable and worth treating.

According to Professor Graham Thornicroft from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, who led the study, “About half of all people with depression did not think they had a problem that needed treatment and this proportion fell to only a third in the poorest countries. This strongly suggests that we also need to support people with depression and their family members to recognise that they have a treatable condition and should seek treatment and care.”

Thornicroft’s team analysed data from the WHO World Mental Health Surveys. Of the 4.6% of survey respondents that met the 12-month criteria for major depressive disorder, a little over half recognized their need for treatment. 71% of those made at least one visit to a doctor or another health service provider, and of those, less than half went on to receive minimal treatment standards. Worldwide, that means only 16.5% of people who met the criteria for MDD were getting the help they needed.

Depression is treatable. If you don’t fall into that 16.5% or the treatment you’ve received hasn’t helped, it’s important to talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Finding help isn’t always easy and it can take persistence, but the benefits can be life-changing.

[Undertreatment of people with major depressive disorder in 21 countries]
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