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Depression as a Major Social Issue

As these statistics cumulate, so do the number of families and friends touched by extreme grief.

When a child loses her parents she is called an orphan. When a woman loses her husband she is called a widow. When a man loses his wife he is called a widower. But there is no word to describe a parent suffering the loss of a child, or the pain of a brother or sister.

Such extreme outcomes are only the 'tip of the iceberg' for a much more widespread problem of depression which starts with adolescence. As well as the disruption to the functioning of schools in critical years like the HSC certificate, depression from adolescence is carried into the work place with costs in terms of sick leave and ineffective work.

The costs of drugs prescribed for depression, hospitalisation and visits to health care professionals are enormous, both for families who often can't afford these costs, as well as for the healthcare burden for society as a whole.

For the sufferers of depression the implications for the quality of life of young Australians and their families coping with depression on a daily basis can be disasterous.

The National Mental Health Strategy sums it up this way:

Age Prevalence of mental problems and disorders by age % of group
4-11 years 16%
12-16 years 22%
18-24 years 28%
25-34 years 23%
35-44 years 22%
45-54 years 18%
55-65 years 12%
65+ years 6%
Source: National Mental Health Strategy, February 2004, Commonwealth Of Australia.

The effect of a mental disorder in late adolescence or early adulthood may seriously impede and disrupt a young person's growth and development, and erode quality of life. It can affect a young person's confidence, create unwanted dependence on families, strain social and family relationships, seriously disrupt education and career paths, and hinder social development, at a time of life when these are crucially important. The effect may be lifelong, and the costs-financial, social and health wise- of failing to provide effective early intervention, treatment and secondary prevention are significant'.(4)

(4) 'Responding to the Mental Health Needs of Young People in Australia’, National Mental Health Strategy, February 2004, page 6.

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