People who think depression is a western malaise might be surprised by the results of a new study
Depressive disorders by country according to the study. Click on the image for a full-size graphic
For those who think of depression as a byproduct of the vapidity of western materialism, this latest study by researchers in Queensland might come as something of a shock. Depression simply isn't that picky. And when it comes to depressive disorders, parts of north Africa and the Middle East suffer more than North America and western Europe.
According to the researchers, who gathered pre-existing data on clinical diagnoses up to 2010, Algeria, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan fared worse for the cumulative number of years their citizens lived with the disability of depression (YLD). (For the Middle East countries, bear in mind that this relates to data gathered before the Arab spring turned lives upside down).
Japan fared the best, along with Australia and New Zealand. The researchers caveated their work by acknowledging that data is patchy from some parts of the world. Intriguingly, the UK and US – countries in which reporting on mental illness and cultural reflections of depression are rapidly multiplying – appear to be far less badly afflicted than parts of Africa and eastern Europe.
The second interesting breakdown (no pun intended) of the data concerns age.
YLDs by age and sex for major depressive disorder and dysthymia (milder depression) in 1990 and 2010. Click on the image for a full-size graphic
The gender graph contains few surprises – women appear to suffer about twice as much as men, reflecting most major studies into the incidence of depression. But the age analysis shows the extent to which depression is becoming a young person's affliction. People aged 20 to 24 suffer most, closely followed by the generation immediately senior to them. By the time you get to 50-year-olds, where existential questions might start to press, rates dwindle. Above 60, they ease off quite sharply. There may be comfort in growing old after all.
So is depression on the rise? Again, you would think so from the proliferation of reporting and analysis about the disease. The researchers say yes and no: depressive illness is the disease with the second heaviest burden on society, with around one in 20 people suffering. But if it is getting worse, they say, it may be down to demographics.
"Whilst burden increased by 37.5% between 1990 and 2010, this was due to population growth and ageing," they say. "Contrary to recent literature on the topic, our findings suggest that the epidemiology of both major depressive disorder and dysthymia (milder depression) remained relatively stable over time."