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Health First Europe, an alliance of patient groups, healthcare wofrkers, academics, experts and the medical technology industry, urges governments to put more emphasis on fighting depression. Commenting at the occasion of the first ever European Day of Depression, Mrs Imelda Read, Honorary Chairperson of Health First Europe, said, “Europe is facing a real crisis, if governments do not start providing more and better information, diagnosis and testing and access to treatment or therapy of depression”.

The first European Day of Depression is being organised tomorrow in Namur, Belgium, under the patronage from Mr Rudy Demotte, Belgian Minister for Health and Social Affairs. Health First Europe fully supports this timely initiative and draws attention to the growing threat from depression on public health in Europe.

According to World Health Organization estimates, by 2020 major depression will be one of the most common causes of disability in established market economies, ranked second only to cardio-vascular diseases. 30% of today’s population experience depression at least once in their life and it afflicts persons of all genders, ages, and backgrounds. Still, depression most often occurs to people aged between 20 and 40 years, at a particularly productive time in their life.

Health First Europe warns of the extent to which depression causes a serious disruption in many people’s personal lives and careers and of the potential cost to Europe’s competitiveness. In Germany, depressive disorders account for almost 7% of premature retirements and depression-related work incapacity lasts about two and half times longer than incapacity due to other illnesses. In Finland, mental health disorders, mostly depressive disorders, are the leading cause of disability pensions.

A deepening depression crisis strikes at the heart of European productivity and economic growth, yet a healthy society is crucial for the success of the EU’s Lisbon agenda that seeks to make the EU the world’s most dynamic and competitive economy by 2010. “Health equals wealth”, as Commissioner Byrne summarised it4, and governments need to make a long-term investment in Europe’s future by taking decisive action against depression as a growing threat to public health. HFE’s Honorary Chairperson Read is clear on this point: “Depression is rapidly becoming one of the biggest threats to the way we live and the way we work”.

Depression is a common mental disease caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals that has a debilitating physical and psychological effect on those who suffer from it. Usually associated with loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-esteem, disturbed sleep or appetite and poor concentration, the disability caused by major depression has been found to be equivalent to blindness or paraplegia.

Like any serious medical condition, depression needs to be treated. With the proper combination of medication and psychotherapy, up to 60% of people with depression can recover. Yet, health policies have largely failed to recognise and address the extent of the depression crisis and to provide for adequate treatment.

According to Dr Vincenzo Costigliola, President of the European Medical Association (EMA) and member of Health First Europe, “an estimated 33.4 million people in the European Region suffer from major depression every year, yet research has shown that 47% of people requiring care do not get it – and remain untreated”.

Health First Europe urges governments to take immediate action to remove the barriers preventing effective care, provide necessary resources and training and to fight the social stigma associated with depression.