The Relationship between Depression and Wealth

By: Bel Marra Health | Brain Function | Friday, January 13, 2012 - 10:17 AM

depression and wealthFeeling sad, miserable, or “blue” for lengthy periods of time? You could be one of millions suffering from depression. Depression levels are on the rise across the world.  The World Health Organization (WHO) states that by the year 2020, depression will be the second largest contributor to the global burden of disease. Depression is a state of mind and can have a negative effect on a person’s thoughts, behavior, attitude and overall well-being.

There is not a single cause of depression.  Causes of depression are not fully understood by the medical community although it is believed that there are certain triggers that can lead to a depressive state, including:

–          Stressful events in a person’s life (a death, job loss, etc.)
–          Certain medical conditions
–          Chemical imbalances in the brain
–          Social factors (finances, lack of a support system, loneliness, etc.)
–          Genetics

Perhaps the most shocking, is the recent correlation between wealth and depression.

A recent study conducted by the WHO found that wealthier nations such as the United States and France have higher rates of depression than poorer countries such as Mexico and China.  The highest rate of depression was found in France, with a rate of 21%; while the lowest rate was found in China at 6.5%.

Researchers from the WHO study found that if you live in a wealthy nation, you are more likely to experience at least one depressive episode than if you live in a middle to low income nation. Approximately 15% of people living in the 10 richest countries included in the study experienced a depressive episode, while only 11% of people living in poorer countries experienced depressive episode. One thing that did remain consistent in wealthy and poor nations was that depression causes impairment in a person’s life – personal and work lives are both affected negatively.

Researchers suggest a number of different theories as to why a discrepancy in the depression rates between wealthy and poorer countries exists.  Individuals living in wealthier nations tend to rely less on social support for marital or work-related problems when compared to individuals living in lower income nations.  It is known that there is a strong link between depression and lack of a support system.  One researcher even suggests that individuals living in poorer nations tend to have stronger religious beliefs which provide additional support and protection from experiencing depression.

In wealthier nations there is also a heightened expectation to achieve financial success.  If an individual does not reach this expectation, it could result in a depressive episode because they feel like a failure when compared to societal norms.  Additionally, stress is also prominent in wealthier nations where incomes are higher.  Stress can lead to depressive episodes as well. Furthermore, in wealthier nations, there tends to be more income-inequality which can lead to depression among other health conditions.

Another reason why this discrepancy may exist is that mental illness, such as depression, is much more recognized and diagnosed in wealthier nations.  Some people say that depression is perhaps over-diagnosed in wealthier nations.  Individuals living in poorer countries may not even know or recognize signs of depression and as a result potential depressive episodes may have not been reported in the WHO study.

While the reason(s) for the difference in depression levels between wealthy and poor nations remains unknown, it does exist.  Future research should focus on why these differences are seen and nation-specific ways to diagnose and treat the condition.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression

There is an array of signs and symptoms associated with depression, common ones include:

–          Feelings of hopelessness
–          Loss of interest in activities that you used to enjoy
–          Appetite or weight changes
–          Sleep difficulties
–          Irritability
–          Loss of energy / lethargy
–          Engaging in dangerous behaviour (drinking, drug use, etc.)
–          Difficulty concentrating
–          Experiencing unexplained aches and pains

Treatment for Depression

Just as there is no single cause of depression, there is not a single treatment for depression.  There are many effective treatment options so it is best to discuss your condition with your healthcare provider and come up with an individualized treatment plan so you experience the best results.  Some treatment options include:

–          Medication (there are many antidepressants available)
–          Therapy (talk therapy, psychotherapy, individual and/or group therapy, etc.)
–          Lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, nutrition, etc.)
–          Nutritional supplementation
–          Relaxation techniques (yoga, meditation, acupuncture, etc.)

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