Depression Is the Leading Cause of Disease Burden For Women Worldwide

International Day of the GirlI’ve said it before. Postpartum depression exists all over the world, despite what some people might have you believe.

I also believe 1 in 5 women get postpartum depression worldwide. That’s 20%, which is a hell of a lot of women. Not the oft-quoted 10%, or 15%, but TWENTY PERCENT.

And yesterday, for World Mental Health Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) reiterated that. In their media note to mark the 20th anniversary of World Mental Health Day, they specifically mentioned postpartum depression, which I thought was fantastic:

“Depression results from a complex interaction of social, psychological and biological factors. There is a relationship between depression and physical health, for example cardiovascular disease can lead to depression and vice versa. Up to one in five women who give birth experience postpartum depression.”

In a 2012 paper on depression, the WHO states, “While depression is the leading cause of disability for both males and females, the burden of depression is 50% higher for females than males (WHO, 2008). In fact, depression is the leading cause of disease burden for women in both high-income and low- and middle-income countries (WHO, 2008).” Let me repeat that: Depression is the leading cause of disease burden for women. Not diabetes. Not hypertension. Not heart disease. Not chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD.) Depression. And yet, almost half of the world’s population lives in a country where, on average, there is one psychiatrist or less for every 200,000 people. There are no services. There is no help. Can you imagine?

Postpartum depression cannot be ignored. So many of the people I talk to who are carrying out maternal child health programs around the world tell me those programs do not include provisions to assess and support a new mother’s mental health. This has got to change.

And it’s not only women and PPD we should be concerned about. Today is International Day of the Girl. Much of the focus of this event is on issues — important ones — of equality, child marriage, sex trafficking and access to education.  But did you know the WHO found the leading cause of disease burden among adolescents age 10-19 across the world is depression, too?

Let’s make sure our girls grow up healthy and strong in body and mind. Let’s make mental health a priority instead of an afterthought.

About Katherine Stone

is the founder of Postpartum Progress. She has been named a WebMD Health Hero, one of the fiercest women in America by More magazine, and one of the top 20 Social Media Moms by Working Mother magazine. She is a survivor of postpartum OCD.

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  1. Amen sister. Knowledge and help is a blessing.

  2. Hi – I’m not a mom — I just stumbled across your site while doing some research — but I do deal with depression and anxiety and want to thank you for this and for the thoughtful article on the antidepressant/placebo issue. Compassion is helpful regardless of what demographic one falls into.