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AUS: Depression - The Ailment Of The 21st Century

Media Release

Australian Health Ministers Conference - Canberra

4 August 1999

Depression - The Ailment Of The 21st Century

Young people, single or divorced Australians and those living alone are most at risk from suffering depression, a major new report has found.

The problem has become so severe, that by 2020, it is estimated depression will be the second most pervasive health problem worldwide.

Released in Canberra today at the Australian Health Ministers' Conference, Mental Health - A report focusing on depression was developed under the National Health Priority Area (NHPA) initiative.

Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, Dr Michael Wooldridge, said despite the widespread problem, less than one quarter of people suffering symptoms of depression and other mental health problems actually sought help from a GP or health professional.

"Some one in five Australians today have a mental illness, with young men aged 18 - 24 and middle-aged women presenting the highest prevalence.

"This report is particularly timely in that it provides the most comprehensive snapshot to date of the devastating impact that depression has on our community.

"Given the alarming predictions of the World Health Organisation (WHO) we simply have no time to waste in tackling this issue."

Other major findings of the report included:

10 per cent of young people have a depressive disorder

social disadvantage, family discord and a family history of depression are some of the important risk factors

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depression and anxiety symptoms occur in about four to six per cent of children and are likely to persist with age if not effectively treated

almost 80 per cent of people with depression also experience anxiety, a physical ailment, and alcohol or other drug misuse

depressive disorders commonly exist alongside a physical condition for example cardiovascular disease, arthritis, infections or cancer.

Director of the NHMRC Psychiatric Epidemiology Research Centre at the ANU, Professor Scott Henderson, said depressions was still widely misunderstood.

"It is not a fleeting sadness but a pervasive and relentless sense of despair. A lack of interest in life accompanied by weight loss, loss of appetite, feelings of uselessness and sleep disturbance are some of the more common symptoms.

"People with depression can't just 'snap-out' of it. There can be an array of causes - it can be due to stresses in the home or at work, or it can just come out of the blue. Sometimes family history can be a major factor."

Dr Wooldridge said the report would provide a vital body of knowledge to help understand more about the risks, the profiles, the symptoms and eventually the treatment of this debilitating disease.

"There are no simple answers and this evidence suggests that many may not even be aware that they are predisposed or even experiencing depression. For this reason, removing the stigma and demystifying the disease are important steps."

ACT Minister for Health and conference host, Mr Michael Moore, said that Australia's Health Ministers recognised that it was a responsibility for all governments to take this knowledge and use it as a way forward to minimise the toll that depression was taking on the community.

Under the Second National Mental Health Plan depression is identified as a key issue to be addressed and, in anticipation of Health Ministers' desire to tackle the problem, work is already well progressed on the National Depression Action Plan.

Building on the outcomes of the NHPA Report, the Action Plan will provide a framework to tackle depression at all levels. The activities to be identified in the Plan will be based on both expert opinion of best approaches and on community views of what is wanted.

Dr Wooldridge said the call for the establishment of a National Institute to address depression by a number of Ministers reflected the clear commitment to tackle this burden.

"I welcome and share this commitment and anticipate that such a proposal should be referred to an appropriate national forum to discuss how it might be implemented. It is vital that appropriate initiatives be explored with relevant experts, as well as consumers, carers and other key stakeholders. We must work together to address this major health problem."

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