Depression: A Threat to Economy

Author: Anisa Indira

Recently, mental health has been one of the world’s main concerns, especially to the World Health Organization (WHO). From their annual campaign, WHO specified 2017’s campaign for depression through Depression: Let’s Talk. They addressed people to take care of depression seriously since, although common, depression can create severe effects to the bearer (World Health Organization, 2017). In 2012, WHO announced that clinical depression has become an epidemic. Clinical Depression or simply Depression is a mental illness categorized as mood disorder which is triggered by prolonged stress. Depression affects the bearer in mood changes—such as sudden irritability and constant sadness—and in other health condition like gastritis and nerve damage (National Institute of Mental Health America, 2014). The emotional instability which people with depression face will often cause trouble to their daily activity. Often times, people with depression will feel hopeless and empty, which can lead to death by suicide.

Although the United Nations has published mental health guidelines for its member countries as an effort to reduce suicide rate caused by depression, the number still has not decreased significantly up until now—in average, 800.000 people die from suicide globally every year with the majority of the victims in their productive age (ages 15 to 29) (World Health Organization, 2018). The cause may vary; ranging from stress from economic condition to toxic intrapersonal relationship. Hence, this becomes a huge issue to many countries with demography problems. Nations with a low birth rate will find this issue as  concerning to avoid human resources shortage. Not only is suicide the main problem, but the disability that depression has caused to young people will make them unable to perform well in work. As a result, a state may have to bear the extra cost of mental health care to treat its citizens. The risk of economic loss is one of the main reason why depression is taken seriously globally (Wang, 2003).

In order to understand why depression can be harmful to the economy, we will take a look at an example. East Asia is a region with a shared demographic problem: a rapidly ageing population. Low birth rate coupled with a high population of elderly people are ticking time bombs that can lead to a population deficit—it even has happened to Japan, with a -0.27% deficit from 2017 to 2018 and a -30% deficit expectancy in 2050 (United Nations Population Department, 2018). Population regeneration is undoubtedly necessary to sustain development growth as part of human resources regeneration—it is the fundamental feature of an economic cycle (Lee, Mason, & Park, 2011). The elderly are less productive (or not productive at all) and more consumptive, while young people have more time and capabilities to work. A poor ratio between the elderly and productive young people will be a burden for the economy as its spending rate would well surpass its income rate. With that problem, East Asia is at risk to having unstable growth in the future, and high suicide rates among young people is not helping at all.

Another problem we will most likely face is a less productive population. With many young people suffering depression, they will be more hesitant to function properly at work. People with depression may find it hard to concentrate with their work or find joy in their activities due to a chemical imbalance (World Health Organization, 2012). Many cases happen where people with major depressive disorder (a spectrum of clinical depression) find it hard to find the motivation to go out and work. Most of them cannot leave the safety and comfort of their own spaces from the lack of energy—one of the symptoms of depression. Failing to perform well at work or being unable to work at all may obviously lead to unemployment, which would further burden the economy.

Raising awareness is a start to tackle this issue. Some people still find depression as a taboo topic (e.g. among Asians) which makes depression stigmatized. The stigmas around depression as a bizarre illness makes some people with depression hesitant to seek for professional help (Overton, 2008). With campaigns that show depression as a ‘normal’ health condition and clinically proven, it will be easier for people to understand that depression needs medical and psychological treatment. This approach can also make the family and close ones of people with depression to have supportive behaviors. Depending on the person, it usually will take a long time to cure depression (National Institute of Mental Health America, 2014). Less negative attitude from other people will ease the stress better. Another way we can take to prevent depression from crumbling the economy apart is to ensure that they get proper treatment with decent health facilities. Certified psychologists and psychiatrists, government or non-government bodies that are responsible in spreading information about mental health, hospitals, also appropriate medication are necessary to solve the problems we face at hand. With that being carried out, we would be able to lessen the economic burden caused by clinical depression.


  1. Lee, S.-H., Mason, A., & Park, D. (2011). Why Does Population Aging Matter So Much for Asia? Population Aging, Economic Security and Economic Growth in Asia. ERIA Paper Discussion Series .
  2. National Institute of Mental Health America. (2014). Mental Health: Depression.
  3. Overton, S. (2008). The Stigma of Mental Illness.
  4. United Nations Population Department. (2018). Global Mortality by Suicide. Retrieved from www.
  5. Wang, P. S. (2003). The Economic Burden of Depression and the Cost-Effectiveness of Treatment.
  6. World Health Organization. (2012). Depression: A Global Public Health Concern. Retrieved from
  7. World Health Organization. (2017). Depression: Let’s Talk.
  8. World Health Organization. (2018). Mental Health: Suicide Data. Retrieved from

Leave a Reply