Depression is the world’s second most common cause of disability, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS Medicine.
Researchers found that depression accounted for the second highest total number of years lived with a disability globally, trailing only back pain. When considering potentially fatal risk factors associated with depression, including heart attack and suicide, the number of disability adjusted life years (DALYs) — defined as the loss of one full year of healthy life due to a disability — stemming from depression spiked by another 20 million total years throughout the world.
“[D]epressive disorders are a leading direct cause of the global disease burden and… also contributes to the burden allocated to suicide and ischemic heart disease,” wrote the study authors. “These findings emphasize the importance of including depressive disorders as a public-health priority and implementing cost-effective interventions to reduce its burden.”
Women and working adults were the most likely groups to be left disabled by depression, according to researchers, and the mental illness ranked as the third leading cause of DALYs in North America.
The findings underscore the reality that mental illnesses are usually accompanied by physical consequences. Almost 70 percent of people who suffer from depression experience chronic aches and pains that can often be debilitating. Other common symptoms of depression include insomnia, chronic fatigue, and a decreased appetite.
Until recently, American public health policy treated physical and mental illnesses as distinct issues, despite overwhelming scientific consensus that doing so had no medical basis. Provisions of the Affordable Care Act and the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act seek to reverse that dynamic by forcing insurers to offer mental health coverage and financially treat mental illness in the same that they treat physical illness. In March, doctors from around the world issued a global recommendation for every person to get regular mental health checkups alongside their physicals.