Change of Seasons, Change of Comparative Disease Burden

It’s that time of the year again— school has begun, summer is nearing its end, and the amount of sunlight we can enjoy is decreasing with each passing day. Unfortunately for many, this change of season brings with it a familiar depressive pattern known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  Like other diseases, mood disorders such as SAD and other types of depression can severely impair the daily lives and routines of the persons afflicted.

Lamentably, mental health disorders are prevalent worldwide and lead to poor quality of life and increased mortality, yet health systems continuously neglect mental illness when considering the population’s health. Most middle and low-income countries discriminate between physical and mental illness, allocating less than 1% of their health expenditures to mental health.

In 2002, estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) showed that 154 million people suffer from depression alone.  Oftentimes the indirect health impact and the considerable loss of life quality resulting from mental health disorders is ignored and unaccounted for when assessing population health and burden of disease.

The use of Disability adjusted life years (DALYs) measure of morbidity and mortality to help assess the global burden of disease, may help shed light on these discrepancies and considerably affect the decisions of health policy makers to improve the overall health of the global population.

The DALY is a measure of health that includes the years lost due to poor health or disability. As measured by DALYs, mental health disorders were major causes of lost healthy years, whereas earlier assessments of global health priorities attributed no deaths and few injuries to mental health disorders.  The 2001 World Health Report states that mental health disorders account for 12% of the Global Burden of Disease, second only to infectious disorders (23%), and are bigger burden than AIDS, TB and malaria combined (10%).

So let’s hope that by obtaining more thorough data our global governments and health organizations will be increasingly knowledgeable and aware of the burden of mental diseases like depression. Without the implementation of effective policies and interventions, the worldwide burden of mental illness will continue to take its toll.

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