'Let's Talk', WHO says, as depression rates rise 18 percent in a decade

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - Depression is now the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday, with more than 300 million people suffering.

Rates of depression have risen by more than 18 percent since 2005, but a lack of support for the mental health combined with a common fear of stigma means many do not get the treatment they need to live healthy, productive lives. 

"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 it deserves," Margaret Chan, the WHO's director-general, said in a statement from the U.N. agency's Geneva headquarters.

The WHO is running a mental health campaign to tackle stigma and misconceptions called "Depression: Let's Talk".

"For someone living with depression, talking to a person they trust is often the first step toward treatment and recovery," said Shekhar Saxena, director of the WHO's mental health department.

Depression is a common mental illness characterized by persistent sadness and a loss of interest and lack of ability in everyday activities and work. It affects around 322 million people worldwide.

Depression also increases the risk of several major diseases and disorders including addiction, suicidal behavior, diabetes and heart disease, which are themselves among the world's biggest killers

WHO expressed concern that in many countries there is little or no support for people with mental health disorders, and said only around half of people with depression get treatment in wealthier nations.

On average just 3 percent of government health budgets is spent on mental health, varying from less than 1 percent in poor countries to 5 percent in rich ones, according to the WHO.

"A better understanding of depression and how it can be treated ... is just the beginning," said Saxena. "What needs to follow is sustained scale-up of mental health services accessible to everyone, even the most remote populations."

(Editing by Julia Glover)

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