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Depression and Anxiety: An International Perspective

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Until some years ago, there was a common understanding that when people talked about depression or anxiety, they were talking about exclusively Western problems. That somehow the excesses of capitalism, its financial system and the breaking up of Western society towards individualism, detached from the "family spirit" of the global South, was causing these distinctly modern problems of anxiety, depression and the like.

Unsurprisingly, in recent years, this myth has been seriously debunked.

A host of research conducted across the globe over the past couple of years show that actually, depression and anxiety are serious health issues found in every society in the world. In two separate studies from 2012 of anxiety disorders and clinical depression, researchers at The University of Queensland examined surveys of clinical anxiety and depression conducted across 91 countries, involving more than 480,000 people.

It was found that anxiety, the most common of all mental disorders, affected about one in 13 people. According to these studies, anxiety disorders were more commonly reported in Western societies than in non-Western ones, even for those that are currently experiencing conflict. But the opposite was true for depression -- which, according to the University of Queensland research, affects about one in 21 people at any point in time.

The research revealed that, in fact, people in Western countries are least likely to be depressed, while those in some parts of Asia and the Middle East are most likely to be depressed. About 9 percent of people have major depression in Asian and Middle Eastern countries, such as India and Afghanistan, compared with about 4 percent in North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, and East Asian countries including China, Thailand, and Indonesia, according to the research, which appeared as part of the Global Burden of Disease Study, 2012.

The studies further found that both major depression and anxiety are found more commonly in women than in men. While clinical depression is common throughout a person's lifespan, anxiety becomes less common in men and women over the age of 55. But there is also a strong case of argument that closely inks the prevalence of depression with anxiety and vice versa among any given population.

The link between anxiety and depression:

There is even evidence that shows that the occurrence of anxiety and depression are linked -- that they often come hand in hand. Another interesting article on the relationship between anxiety and depression argues that depression and anxiety "almost always" go together. According to the article, which quotes the statistics of the largest survey taken in the United States, called the National Comorbidity Survey, more than half of patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) also have had an anxiety disorder.

This would then mean that rather than saying that depression is more common in the global South than anxiety and less common in the West, in fact, they could be co-current -- although one illness might precede the other. The article elaborates:

... anxiety and depression both share overlapping symptoms, incidence/risk factors, genetic/biological markers and similar treatment methods. The problem many research studies are still trying to understand is the nature of the relationship between anxiety and depression. In some patients these two disorders occur at the same time while in other patients anxiety precedes the depression by several years, or vice versa.

For many of us, it is difficult to even distinguish between anxiety and depression and many even believe they are the same. However, while similar, they are different. The most recent studies, according to the aforementioned article, highlight that while it is unclear exactly what the differences are, they "agree that anxiety and depression are two separate disorders that have some overlap rather than two variations on one problem."

The good news is that whether you're feeling anxious or depressive or both -- or don't know-- help is readily available, including an online support community offered by the International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression (iFred). iFred offers support for people with depression and anxiety in our global online support group, with over 2,800 active members. Do join the group and be a part of the global community talking about depression and anxiety advocating for hope through treatment.

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