The Middle East and North Africa suffer the world’s highest depression rates, according to a new study by researchers at Australia’s University of Queensland — and it’s costing people in the region years off their lives.
The study, published this week in the journal PLOS Medicine, used data on the prevalence, incidence and duration of depression to determine the social and public health burden of the disorder around the world. Globally, they found, depression is the second-leading cause of disability, with slightly more than 4 percent of the world’s population diagnosed with it. The map at the top of this page shows how much of the population in each country has received a diagnosis of clinical depression.
Of course, researchers didn’t go out and test everyone for clinical depression; rather, they used preexisting data. That means we’re not looking at rates of clinical depression, exactly, so much as the rate at which people are diagnosed with clinical depression. People who live in countries with greater awareness of and easier access to mental health services, then, are naturally going to be diagnosed at a higher rate. That may help explain the unusually low rate in Iraq, for example, where public health services are poor. Taboos against mental health disorders may also drive down diagnosis rates, for example in East Asia, artificially lowering the study’s measure of clinical depression’s prevalence in that region. The paper further cautions that reliable depression surveys don’t even exist for some low-income countries — a common issue with global studies — forcing the researchers to come up with their own estimates based on statistical regression models.