Depression-first world problem?

In this article, it will be discussed if depression occurs mainly in first-world countries, what the prevalence of this mental illness is in different regions of the globe, and how different regions and cultures deal with this topic. The article will also focus on what the world health organization says about depression across the globe.

So, what is depression?

Depression is a mental illness that alters the person’s mood and perception of life. A person with depression might feel sad, irritable, or empty. They might also experience a loss of purpose or pleasure in all life’s activities. 

Among those, other symptoms appear when a person is depressed, those symptoms are:

-lack of concentration

-decrease on self-worth value

-feeling guilty

-the hopelessness of the future

-change in sleep and appetite patterns

-feeling tired and with lack of energy

-episodes of pain (headaches)

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a person can be considered depressed when they experience these feelings almost every day or for at least two weeks. 

It is also important to clarify that there are different patterns of depression. They can be:

Single episode

Which means the person only had the first episode of depression in their lifetime.

Recurrent depressive disorder

In that the person has gone through two or more depressive episodes during their lifetime.

Bipolar disorder

That is,  when a person has that pattern it means that the depression moments are substituted by the presence of manic symptoms, which can go from euphoria to feeling irritable. 

Depression is a multi-variable disorder, although women are more susceptible to getting depressed than men. It can happen to men and women and it has social, biological, and psychological causes. Depression tends to shows itself usually when a person faces a problematic life, traumatic situations, maybe the loss of a loved one, or a financial problem.

Is depression a first-world matter?

According to the World Health Organization, depression is a common mental disorder all across the globe. The organization estimates that 5% of the world’s adult population is suffering from depression right now. Being that, nowadays, it is the leading cause of people’s disability.

According to WHO the 10 countries with higher depression rates are:

-Ukraine: 6,3% of the population

-United States: 5,9% of the population

-Estonia: 5,9% of the population

-Australia: 5,9% of the population

-Brazil: 5,8% of the population

-Greece: 5,7% of the population

-Portugal: 5,7% of the population

-Belarus: 5,6% of the population

-Finland: 5,6% of the population

-Lithuania: 5,6% of the population

When taking a look at that list, it shows that although not all the countries that have the higher prevalence of depression are first-world countries, most of them are, in fact, first-world countries.

According to research, an important factor to consider when trying to understand why there are more frequent reports of depression in first world countries is that in those countries, the income inequality is higher than in third world countries and that is often a situation that can lead to depression

Another important thing to discuss is how the lifestyle of first-world countries can be directly related to being depressed. People in those countries often live in a reality of social isolation, a great cause of depression. In those cultures, the constant search for material well-being can cause some to feel they are living in superficial worlds which can give a person a sense of boredom and emptiness.

This is not a saying that goes to reinforce that belief that people that live a life of less wealth don’t have time to be depressed because they are trying to survive, it is a simple realization that the way people live in more developed countries can cause them to feel depressed.

Something to think about when affirming that people in first world countries get depressed more frequently is that researchers suggest that maybe people that live in a first world country might have better health and care networks so people there get diagnosed fairly easier than people from third world countries?

What is up for questioning here is if people in first world countries do get more depressed or is it that, as shown by the study conducted by Kessler and Bromet, in 2013, different countries have different ways of evaluating depression?

It is important to highlight that although people may live in completely different cultures and come from different backgrounds, the range of feelings a person can experience in the United States might be the same as another person can experience in Tanzania. 

In each country, people experience those feelings in different moments and they might even name them differently, but the feelings of sadness, joy, hopelessness, or worry might be the same in every human being. What can change is how people in different cultures perceive those feelings as something to be concerned about, and when they look for help.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ): Does depression happen mostly in first-world countries?

What are the countries with the lowest depression rates?

 According to the data of the World Health Organization, the countries with the lowest depression rates are:

-Solomon Islands: 2,9% of the population

-Papua New Guinea: 3% of the population

-Timor-Leste: 3% of the population

-Vanuatu: 3,1% of the population

-Kiribati: 3,1% of the population

-Tonga: 3,2% of the population

-Samoa: 3,2% of the population

-Laos: 3,2% of the population

-Nepal: 3,2% of the population

-Philippines: 3,3% of the population

Is there a connection between how poor a person is and depression?

Yes, poverty can be a cause of depression. Living in a situation where one feels unsafe about their life, their safety, and future can be a reason to cause someone to get depressed.

Research has shown that people with lower levels of education, who have experienced childbearing in their teenage years and have an insecure job situation are more susceptible to developing depression and other forms of mental illness.

What are the countries with the highest anxiety rate?

At the moment the United States is the world with the highest number of anxious people on the planet, 33% of their population say they are dealing with some sort of mental illness. After them it comes to the United Kingdom and Canada with 26% each, followed by France with 24%, Australia and New Zealand with 23%. 

How do I look after my mental health?

A great way to be aware of your mental health and take care of it is to talk about your feelings. It is good to share when you feel good, but it is of the utmost importance to have people you trust and feel comfortable with so you can share when you feel troubled.

Another great way to take care of it is by being active. Moving your body can give a great sense of accomplishment, and the endorphins that come from it may give a great sense of well-being. Aside from that, eat well and don’t over drink. After drinking too much our brain chemicals are affected and it is common for people to feel a lack of energy.

A great thing to know, when trying to take care of your mental health is your boundaries, know your limits, take your time in doing things, try not to answer so much to what people might expect or want you to do.

Do something you love and you are good at. By doing that a person is filled, again, with that great sense of accomplishment and realization by doing something they are passionate about.

And finally, keep in touch with people you love and know when to ask for help. Sometimes, when facing life’s most difficult moments, people may find it hard to ask for help, but opening yourself up to receiving the help of a family member or a close friend can help take a lot of weight from your back.

Do a lot of teenagers get depressed?

Being a teenager is a tough moment in a person’s life. You are not a kid anymore, but you are not as independent and self-assured as you assume an adult is. It is like being in between something.

At that moment you start to question your parents’ rules and knowledge, want to try new things, and discover your likes, dislikes, and rules. It feels like the world is out there, you just need to reach out and grab it. But unfortunately, not all teenagers deal with that moment in life in a good way and some might experience depression.

According to data, 20% of teenagers will get depressed, this increases the risk of a teenager having a suicide attempt by 10 to 15%. Aside from that, it is important to know that teenagers that develop depression are also more at risk of developing an alcohol and/or drug abuse problem. 

When a teenager gets depressed, it has some differences than depression might look in an adult. In a teenager, instead of the sadness that is more common in adults, anger might be more present.

Depressed teenagers also have a lower threshold for criticism, develop unexplained pain and aches, so if a parent takes them to a doctor, even after a detailed examination, there will be no justification for the pain.

Differently from adults that usually isolate themselves from all their close contacts, a teenager might keep some people close, they might be in contact with some of their former friends or sometimes they might change groups of friends.


In this article, it was explained what depression is, how it can impair a person’s sense of well-being and cause great human, societal and financial damage. It became clear that, although first-world countries usually have more cases of depression, this mental illness is spread across the globe.

In the article it was shown how different cultures deal with their depressed population, some governments have a better structure to it, and how, in others, depression is seen as something that doesn’t deserve enough attention.

If you have any comments or questions about what was said in this article, feel free to write your thoughts in the comment section below.


Kessler RC, Bromet EJ. The epidemiology of depression across cultures. Annu Rev Public Health. 2013; 34:119-138

Breslau J, Lane M, Sampson N, Kessler RC. Mental disorders and subsequent educational attainment in a US national sample. J Psychiatr Res. 2008; 42: 708-716.

Patel V, Abas M, Broadhead J, Todd C, Reeler A.Depression in developing countries: lessons from Zimbabwe. BMJ. 2001 Feb 24; 322(7284):482-484.

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