Why are rich nations more depressed than poor ones?

U.S. high on the list

By Nicholas Nehamas

A U.S. veteran gets a hand massage at an event for female vets in L.A., which included mental health services. (Reuters)

In honor of World Mental Health DayLatitude News turns a spotlight on global depression, which isn’t just a problem in developed countries like the United States. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 350 million people around the world suffer from some form of depression, but only 10 percent of them receive proper treatment and care.

A 2011 study by international researchers surveyed 18 countries in an attempt to gather mental health data from high-income and developing nations. In general, they found that wealthier nations suffer more from depression, a result they called “counterintuitive.”

The United States and France led the way with 19.2 percent of respondents in the former and 21 percent of respondents in the latter saying they had suffered at least one “major depressive episode” in their life.

But — except for Sao Paolo, Brazil at 18.4 percent — the trend in poorer nations was for lower rates, ranging from 6.5 percent in Shenzen, China to 14.6 percent in Ukraine.

The study’s authors were puzzled that depression was higher in richer countries than in poorer ones, where stress levels would presumably be higher. However, they suggest that in some sense depression can be considered “an illness of affluence.” They also point out that income inequality, currently at a high point in the U.S., can lead to “a wide variety of chronic conditions,” including depression.

But it’s clear that, no matter where you live, a love lost saddens us more than anything else. The study reports that, in high-income countries, the strongest demographic correlate for depression was being separated from a lover. In lower-income ones, it was being divorced or widowed.

You can check out the map below for more info. Click on the bubble to see the frequency of depression in that country.