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Depression is now the leading cause of ill health, disabilities

Depression is now the leading cause of ill health and disability around the world, the World Health Organization announced Thursday. "A better understanding of depression and how it can be treated, while essential, is just the beginning," explained Dr. Shekhar Saxena, who serves as the director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO. "What needs to follow is sustained scale-up of mental health services accessible to everyone, even the most remote populations in the world."

More than 300 million people live with depression, an uptick of more than 18 percent between 2005 and 2015. But worldwide, there is still very little support for mental disorders. On average, governments only spend 3 percent of health budgets on mental health, despite the fact that "every $1 [U.S. dollar] invested in scaling up treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a return of $4 in better health and ability to work," WHO writes. But even in high-income countries, only about half of people suffering from depression get treatment.

Depression is strongly linked to the increased risk of substance abuse as well as diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Hundreds of thousands of people every year additionally commit suicide.

"These new figures are a wake-up call for all countries to re-think their approaches to mental health and to treat it with the urgency that it deserves," said WHO director-general Dr. Margaret Chan.