Depression: Definition, Prevalence, Etiology, Treatment and everything in between – Part III

Burden of Depression

Major depressive disorder leads as the main cause of disability and premature death among younger populations globally (McIntyre & Nathanson, 2010). Additionally, depression has been identified as an independent risk factor for other chronic medical conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and Cardiovascular disease, introducing another avenue of burden.

Notwithstanding the extensive availability of psychotherapeutic interventions and medications used to treat depression; the economic, psychosocial, medical and human capital burdens of depression are confounding and on the rise. The World Health Organization holds that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide as measured by years lived with disability (YLD). In the year 2000, depression emerged fourth among the leading contributors of the world burden of disease as calculated by the sum of years of productive life lost due to disability and potential life lost due to premature death.


It’s predicted that by 2020, depression will be the leading cause of disability among younger population, second only to cardiovascular disease in the general population (Lam, 2012). Patients with depression experience functional impairment and have decreased well-being in comparison to several chronic conditions like heart disease, hypertension, or diabetes. Moreover, major depression has a relatively lower onset age as compared to other debilitating chronic conditions.

Social functioning decreases in relation to increased severity of depressive symptoms. It’s estimated that 18% of patients with minor depression have major problems with daily interactions compared to 52% of patients with major depression. Generally, depression has been shown to increase the risk of social disability 23-folds over the general population. Likewise, depressed persons have twice the overall mortality risk than general population due to direct causes like suicide and indirect causes like medical illnesses and complications resulting from depression.

Economic Burden

The economic burden of depression is influenced by various variable factors including: the prevalence of the disorder, debilitating nature of the symptoms, as well as the treatment rates (Lam, 2012). Majority of costs attributed to major depression stem from reduced performance at work, with the rest of the cost being due to direct medical costs and costs resulting from suicide. In terms of work productivity, those suffering from depression are 3-4 times more likely to take sick days compared to non-depressed individuals.

As such, if not addressed, depression can have devastating implications on not only the sufferer, but also the immediate friends and family, and the society at large.


Lam, R. W. (2012). Depression. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McIntyre, R. S., & Nathanson, J. (2010). Severe depression. Oxford: Oxford University Press.