The Silent Pandemic: Understanding and Addressing Depression in Society

Discover the impact of depression on individuals and society, the importance of seeking help, and the role of preventive and interventional actions with expert insight. Learn about depression as a disorder, condition, and state.

The Silent Pandemic: Understanding and Addressing Depression in Society
What Causes and How to Treat the World's Silent Epidemic of Depression. Image by Grae Dickason from Pixabay

According to the National Institute of Geography and Statistics in Mexico, 34.8 million people have experienced depression at some point in their lives, with 20.37% being women and 14.48% being men. Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that 300 million people suffer from this mental health disorder. Unfortunately, only 1.63% of those with depression in Mexico receive treatment with antidepressants. The WHO defines depression as "persistent sadness and a lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities, along with disturbed sleep and appetite and a lack of concentration."

A HealthCanal article once mentioned depression is a major global cause of disability and has a significant impact on people's health and well-being. The fear of stigma and lack of support for those with mental disorders often prevent people from seeking the help they need. Gerardo Mora, a professor of psychology at UNAM, says that depression is more common in women and that it is a "silent pandemic" that is hard for people to understand and recognize.

On World Day for the Fight Against Depression, observed on January 13, Gerardo emphasizes that society itself is currently undergoing a depressive moment due to recent events such as the pandemic. Depression affects all areas of life, leading to disinterest and a lack of connection with others. There are two types of depression: a personality trait, where people are prone to sadness and a lack of pleasure, and a medical condition that requires medical treatment.

The pandemic has likely worsened the symptoms of depression, leading to an increase in suicidal thoughts, attempts, and suicides, especially among those between the ages of 15 and 29. Gerardo stresses the need to differentiate between depression and melancholy, with depression being a transitory condition and melancholy being a permanent one. When depression lasts for more than six to seven months, it is considered pathological and needs help from a team of experts from different fields.

Gerardo highlights the importance of awareness campaigns and emphasizes that depression affects not only the individual but also their family and environment. It is necessary to seek help when depression becomes overwhelming and affects daily life. Gerardo believes that the key to reducing the impact of depression is to differentiate between it as a disorder, condition, and state and to create solutions that go beyond just performing activities. Depression can make people feel like they are unable to see what is around them, but with the right help, it can be overcome.

The Devastating Impact of Depression

Depression is a common mental disorder that affects a staggering 350 million people globally, according to Laura Barrientos Nicolás, an academic from the National University's Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health. It is the second-leading cause of disability worldwide and is projected to become the number-one cause by 2030 if efforts are not made to treat it effectively. In terms of the number of people who have depression, Mexico ranks 16th, with 8% of the population affected. Women are three times more likely to have depression than men.

Lucía Amelia Ledesma Torres, an academic from the Division of Postgraduate Studies of the FM, explains that common symptoms of depression include sadness lasting for more than two weeks, anxiety, loss of pleasure (anhedonia), changes in appetite and sleep patterns, irritability, and difficulty starting the day. Unfortunately, 50% or more of the population does not recognize these symptoms and does not seek help. Depression can occur at all stages of life but is particularly prevalent between the ages of 20 and 50, in children and adolescents, and older adults.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the issue, with a 25% increase in depression and anxiety disorders worldwide, according to the Pan American Health Organization. Mexico saw the highest number of suicides in a decade in 2020, with 7,896 reported cases. Ledesma Torres says that to stop this, proper diagnosis, monitoring, and evaluation of symptoms, reducing stressors and encouraging self-care, educating the public and family members, and putting in place mental health regulations are all things that can be done.