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Friday, October 29, 1999 Published at 14:46 GMT 15:46 UK


Health

Experts to tackle depression deluge

By 2020 depression will be the second leading cause of death worldwide

Depression will be the second leading cause of death worldwide by 2020 and experts are seeking ways to reduce the burden.

Leading figures in the treatment of depression have been taking part in a major conference in London, entitled the Depression - A Social and Economic Timebomb.

Mental Health
The conference, launched by Prime Minister Tony Blair on Wednesday evening, was co-ordinated by groups including the World Health Organization, the Institute of Psychiatry in London and Harvard Medical School.

Participants want to develop strategies for combating an illness which, according to the WHO, will affect 30% of all adults by 2010.

It now hits about 20% and is already estimated to be the leading cause of disability worldwide.

Experts say it accounts for twice as many years lost to disability and premature death as infectious and parasitic diseases, and five times as many as heart disease.

It is said to be responsible for more than 4,500 deaths a year - one every 75 minutes.


[ image:  ]
The WHO says the burden of depression has only just begun to be recognised.

It wants to reduce suicide rates by at least a third and increase people's ability to cope with stressful experiences.

It believes this can be achieved if more attention is paid to promoting good mental health throughout life, particularly to disadvantaged and marginalised groups.

It also wants health workers to get better training in identifying the early signs of depression and improve the quality of services on offer, including crisis intervention.

The WHO also believes work has an important role to play in mental health.

It states: "Stress at work plays an important role in contributing to the large differences in health, sickness, absence and premature death that are related to social status."

Celebrity help wanted

WHO experts believe poor job quality and increasing insecurity at work has contributed to stress-related conditions, as has the fear of unemployment.

It wants working environments to help people develop social relations and cope with stress, rather than increase it.

Richard Hornsby, director of the Robert Mond Memorial Trust, one of the organisations co-hosting the conference, is calling on celebrities who have suffered from depression to come out of the closet.

He says this would help reduce the stigma attached to the condition.

Research shows employers are more likely to hire someone with a criminal record than a history of mental illness.

Mr Hornsby also called for better education on mental illness.

"Depression is not unhappiness - it is a life-threatening disease and major depression has a mortality rate of up to 30%."

Professor Arthur Kleinman of Harvard Medical School said mental illness was regarded with "benign neglect" in most countries.

"It affects many more people than cancer and yet attracts a small fraction of the healthcare funding of that calamitous disease," he said.

The conference looked at a range of different problems, including suicide among young people, managing depression in the workplace, the role of antidepressants, stress-induced violence in pregnancy and depression in the elderly.





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