Research — 27 July 2012

Depression and anxiety are not ‘first world problems’, according to Australian researchers behind the two most comprehensive global studies of the disorders, debunking ill-conceived notions the two are western illnesses.

Pooling data from studies in 91 countries involving over 480,000 people, the University of Queensland researchers found clinical anxiety and depression are serious health issues throughout the world.

One in 14 people meet the diagnostic criteria for anxiety, and one in 21 meet the criteria for depression, the authors wrote.

Anxiety was more commonly reported in Western societies compared to non-Western, the authors of the anxiety-specific study reported in Psychological Medicine, with around one in 10 people in North America, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand meeting the criteria compared to eight percent in the Middle East and six percent in Asia.

On the flipside, people in Western countries were least likely to be depressed, according to the study compiled as part of the Global Disease Burden Study released later this year.

Lead author Alize Ferrari suggested depression rates seemed to be higher in conflict-riddled parts of the world.

Prevalence was lowest – around four percent – in North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand and East Asian countries, and highest – about nine percent –  in India and Afghanistan, according to the depression study (not yet published).

The authors reported both anxiety and depression were more common among women than men across the globe.

They also found that while depression persisted throughout a person’s lifetime, anxiety was less common in people over the age of 55.

But the authors acknowledged the shortcomings of using data sourced from low and middle income states and urged caution when evaluating mental disorders across different countries.

“The question remains whether this is a true difference … or whether it can be attributed to limited validity in diagnostic criteria,” Ms Baxter and her colleagues wrote.

As first appears in Psychiatry Update.


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