Still too little is known about what triggers depression but it is believed that environmental factors play an important role. There appears to be no ethnic predisposition to the disease, with everyone around the world sharing a similar risk of contracting depression. The difficulty lies in how different societies respond to the disease. It is crucial that employers, colleagues and families begin to treat depression as a medical illness deserving of compassion and understanding. As with any other illness, treatment should be covered by medical insurance. Depression will have a major impact on the health of the world's population in the new century.
Tackling depression as a major medical disorder will not be easy. In Asia, for example, there is tremendous reluctance on the part of patients to admit any form of mental or emotional problems. Patients in India, China and other Asian countries prefer to describe physical symptoms such as a "heavy chest" or "weakness of nerves" rather than admitting sadness or despair. Even so there is no doubt that depression is prevalent in Asia, especially among women. Young girls and elderly women are much more likely to commit suicide in China than in the West.
How does an individual know that he or she is suffering from depression? Patients should seek help when functions are impaired, symptoms are persistent and last more than a couple of weeks. It is important to tackle mild depression before it develops into a more severe form. Another factor to consider is that depression is highly hereditary. Since the 1930s, the medical profession has been aware that identical twins share the disorder significantly more often than non-identical twins do. It is also known that patients who have a stroke are highly likely to suffer a major depression immediately thereafter, suggesting that the same part of the brain may be affected in strokes and depression. The medical community is getting early and positive results from genetics and brain imagery research into the causes of depression.
The problem, of course, is that the cost of a two-year supply of the antidepressant Prozac in China is equivalent to the annual salary of an urban worker.