Mental health problems have a profound impact on men and women worldwide, but the toll of these diseases weighs most heavily on women. Worldwide, depression is responsible for more healthy years lost than HIV/AIDS or malaria in women of all ages.
Globally, depression (also known as major depressive disorder, or MDD) was the top cause of disability among females in 2010 (see screen grab). Disability from depression increased by 37% in females between 1990 and 2010. Anxiety, another mental disorder, ranked sixth. In comparison, depression and anxiety were the second- and 11th-leading causes of disability in males, respectively, in 2010. Clearly, mental health is an important issue for males as well as females, but these diseases are more prominent in females. In 2010, the rate of healthy years lost from depression was 1.7 times higher in females than in males.
Top 10 causes of disability globally, females, 2010
Looking beyond causes of disability by factoring in fatal diseases, depression continues to stand out as a leading cause of healthy years lost in females. At the global level, the screen grab below shows how depression ranks just below certain major killers: lower respiratory infections, ischemic heart disease, stroke, and diarrheal disease. In females worldwide, the burden of depression surpasses HIV/AIDS and malaria. In developing countries as a whole, depression was the eighth-leading cause of healthy years lost in females (view results in data visualization tool online).
Top 10 causes of premature death and disability globally, females, 2010
What contributes to mental health problems in women? To find out, the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 examined different potentially preventable risk factors for disease and injury. The screen grab below shows how intimate partner violence contributes to depression (see dark shading indicating percentage of a disease linked to this risk factor). Intimate partner violence was also linked to self-harm, a category that primarily includes deaths from suicide.
Premature death and disability due to intimate partner violence worldwide, females, 2010
The next screen grab shows how a substantial percentage of healthy years lost from depression are linked to intimate partner violence as early as age 15. Among 30- to 35-year old women, intimate partner violence contributed to 23% of the burden of depression.
Burden of depression attributable to intimate partner violence and childhood sexual abuse globally, females, 2010
A second potentially preventable risk factor for depression in women is childhood sexual abuse. Overall, childhood sexual abuse contributed to about 6% of the total burden of depression in females in 2010, and contributed to an estimated 7% of the burden among 15- to 19 -year-old women (see previous screen grab).
Expanded access to treatment and development of improved medications to treat these diseases are key for addressing the growing mental health crisis. These data also show how combatting domestic violence and sexual abuse is crucial for reducing women’s suffering. Mental health problems are frequently under-recognized and stigmatized, but tackling them is essential for improving the lives of women worldwide.
Katie Leach-Kemon, a weekly contributor of global health visual information posts for Humanosphere, is a policy translation specialist from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
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