Why Is Depression on the Rise?

Depression is rising throughout the world. Today, about 10 times more people suffer from depression than they did in 1945. And the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 300 million people globally suffer from depression, which is about 4 percent of the world’s population.

The WHO has found many concerning global depression trends. They estimate that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Depression is also closely linked to suicide, and suicide rates have also steadily climbed since 1945. Around the world, 2 people kill themselves every minute, and suicide is now the second leading cause of death in people aged 15-29.

What’s fueling this global rise in depression? Depression is known to be linked to certain biological factors, such as genetics or brain chemistry. But this doesn’t explain the steep increase in depression in the past few decades. Human genes and biology don’t change that fast.

The rise in depression is most likely caused by a complex mix of factors, including biological, psychological, social and environmental influences. Let’s take a look at some of the most likely causes research has shown so far.

1. Greater Social Acceptance

In some countries, depression doesn’t have as much of a social stigma attached to it as it did in previous generations. People may be more likely to openly discuss their struggle with depression and seek help.

The United States is the “most depressed” nation in the world, with the highest rate of depression globally. But a reason behind this could be changing social norms in the US. Depression is becoming more recognized as a serious medical condition and treatment is widely available and encouraged.

The WHO points out that this is not the case in many countries. They estimate that today fewer than 50 percent of people living with depression globally receive treatment. Ongoing efforts to increase awareness about depression and possible treatment are still vital.

Related: 11 Natural Treatments for Depression

2. Chronic Illness

Chronic diseases and conditions are rising steadily along with depression. In 2001, the WHO estimated that chronic diseases contributed to approximately 60 percent of deaths worldwide, which is estimated to rise to 75 percent of all deaths by 2020. That’s an unprecedented 15 percent increase in mortality due to chronic disease in less than 20 years.

Research has also shown a disturbing trend that depression is often associated with a wide range of chronic illnesses. A 2011 study found that depression activates the same neural pathways in your brain as many inflammatory and degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

This means depression and chronic disease can affect each other and make both conditions worse. In fact, researchers concluded that the presence of depression also increases the risk of death when it occurs with other medical conditions.

3. Drug Use

Drug use has risen from 4.9 percent of the global population in 2006, to 5.6 percent in 2016. This may not be a large increase overall, but it could be contributing to the global rise in depression. Depression frequently co-occurs with drug abuse, including alcohol and illicit drugs. Nearly 30 percent of people with substance abuse problems also have major or clinical depression.

Most drugs boost or mimic the “feel good” hormones in your brain, such as dopamine. This gives the user a temporary high. But after the drugs wear off, a person who is already suffering from depression can reach a very serious low. The combination of drugs and depression can be a dangerous one.

A disturbing example of this is the steep rise in suicide attempts in young people in the US. Between 2008 and 2017, suicide attempts in people aged 18-25 nearly doubled, going from 395,000 attempts in 2008 to 648,000 in 2017. This is also the age group that saw the greatest increase in drug use in the US during the same time.

Related: How Love Can Help Conquer Addictions

4. Social Isolation

Research has found that in 1985, 10 percent of people in the US had no one to discuss important matters with. By 2004, that number jumped to 25 percent of Americans with no one to confide in. Also, over 50 percent of Americans now report having no close confidants or friends outside of their immediate family.

This trend is happening in many parts of the world as our time is becoming consumed by long work hours, technology and other demands that compete with nurturing social connections.

Social isolation increases the risk of depression for both adults and adolescents. Whereas, having healthy social relationships is shown to reduce depression and have many other mental and physical health benefits.

5. Technology

Some may argue that we are now more connected than ever through social media and other online relationships. But research has shown that virtual interaction with others generally does not improve your mental health, and can actually increase your risk of depression.

A 2017 study investigated over half a million US students in grades 8 to 12 after the introduction of smartphones, which first came on the market in 2007. By 2015, two out of three US teens owned a smartphone. The researchers found that depressive symptoms in teens increased by 33 percent between 2010 and 2015. The suicide rate for girls increased by 65 percent during the same period.

Researchers determined that the rise in depressive symptoms even matched the increase of smartphone use year by year. They concluded that increased time on new media, such as smartphones, can lead to significant increases in depression and suicide.

Other studies have shown similar results. A study of over 1,780 adults aged 19 to 32 found that those who spent the most time on social media sites had the highest risk of developing depression. Whereas, those who spent the most time on “non-screen” pursuits, such as socializing face-to-face with friends, had the lowest risk of depression.

6. Modern Lifestyles

Many aspects of modern life can also increase the risk of depression, such as poor nutrition, lack of exercise, sleep deprivation and even exposure to electromagnetic radiation. Research is limited on how much these factors contribute to the global rise in depression, but they definitely play a role.

If you struggle with depression, keep in mind that depression is caused by a complex mix of factors we’re only starting to understand, most of which are not your fault. And many of these factors can also be changed. You can improve your health, reduce time spent on your smartphone and get more socially active.

It’s also important to speak to your doctor about potential treatment for depression as well as other conditions that may occur with it.

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Caitlin L
Caitlin L2 days ago

Thank you

Mary W.
Mary W27 days ago

Very interesting.

Sara S
Jacob Sabout a month ago


Richard B
Roger Babout a month ago

Thank you for posting

William T
Vincent Tabout a month ago


Ingrid A
Isabel Aabout a month ago

Thanks for this

Mia B
Past Member about a month ago

thanks for sharing

Emma L
Past Member 1 months ago


Sarah A
Past Member 2 months ago


Daniel N
Daniel N2 months ago

thanks very much