Figures released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) have revealed that the number of people with depression worldwide increased 18 per cent between 2005 and 2015, with now more than 300 million people living with depression. This figure marks depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide.

The WHO has decided to focus World Health Day 2017 on depression. In its year-long campaign, of which World Health Day is the culmination, is to encourage countries, organisations and individuals to reconsider their approaches to mental health, and to treat it with the urgency that it deserves.

Said WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan:

“These new figures are a wake-up call for all countries to re-think their approaches to mental health and to treat it with the urgency that it deserves.”

According to the WHO, a lack of support for people with mental health problems, coupled with a fear of stigmatism, prevents many people living with depression from accessing the treatment they need to live healthy, productive lives.

“The continuing stigma associated with mental illness was the reason why we decided to name our campaign Depression: let’s talk,” said Dr Shekhar Saxena, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO. “For someone living with depression, talking to a person they trust is often the first step towards treatment and recovery.”

Increased investment is also needed. In many countries, there is no, or very little, support available for people with mental health disorders. Even in high-income countries, nearly half of people with depression do not get treatment. On average, just three per cent of government health budgets is invested in mental health, varying from less than one per cent in low-income countries to five per cent in high-income countries.

Failure to act is costly. According to a WHO-led study,low levels of recognition and access to care for depression and another common mental disorder, anxiety, result in a global economic loss of a trillion US dollars every year. The losses are incurred by households, employers and governments. Households lose out financially when people cannot work. Employers suffer when employees become less productive and are unable to work. Governments have to pay higher health and welfare expenditures.

Commenting on the need for employers to be disability confident, Kate Headley, Director at diversity consultancy, the Clear Company said;

“With figures from mental health charity, Mind, revealing that one in four people in the UK is expected to experience a problem associated with their mental health every year, it is crucial that as an employer you are aware of how you can effectively support individuals with a mental health condition. Employers often misinterpret the cognitive symptoms associated with conditions such as depression or anxiety – such as poor concentration, difficulty with decision-making and negative thinking – so, people with undisclosed mental health conditions are at a higher risk of losing their jobs.

“However falling out of employment can make conditions worse and, according to Mind, those taking time off for more than six months at a time have only a 20% chance of returning to work in the next five years. Moreover, figures from NHS England reveal that almost 50% of long-term absences from work are the result of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.

If you want to hear from experts in the HR industry on mental health at work, then take a look at the agenda for our leading health at work event held in May in central London.