Seventy-five percent of people with major depression in Europe are not receiving adequate treatment, and yet it is the second-largest contributor to disability or health loss and suicides in the region, according to the World Health Organisation.

The number of people in Europe suffering from depressive disorders has now hit 40 million, with prevalence in countries ranging from 3.8 percent to 6.3 percent of the total population, according to newly released WHO global health estimates for 2015.

Depression is very common and can affect anyone at any stage of life, but the condition is still vastly under-recognised and under-treated, and so there is an urgent need to open up dialogue and tackle the stigma associated with this disabling condition, the agency notes.

Improving treatment is not just about scaling up services but also about raising awareness, building understanding and reducing stigma, says WHO regional director for Europe Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab.

As such, the organisation is leading a campaign, Depression: Let’s Talk, that aims to inform the general public about the consequences and management of depression, and also how to provide support to those living with it. “You may not be able to talk yourself out of a depression, but talking about depression is an important first step,” noted Dr Jakab.

On the economic side, a recent WHO-led study estimated that the global costs of depression and anxiety disorders exceed $1 trillion each year.

“Not taking action is expensive as the economic costs of depression and other common mental disorders are enormous, mainly due to productivity losses caused by absenteeism and lower work productivity. Moreover, a high percentage of people receiving social welfare benefits or disability pensions have a mental disorder as their primary condition – most often depression,” said Dr Dan Chisholm, programme manager for Mental Health at the WHO Regional Office for Europe.

According to WHO, “treating depression with therapy or antidepressants, or a combination of both, is cost-effective and even cost-saving: every $1 invested leads to a return of $4 in better health outcomes and work ability”.

However, despite cost-effective treatments, governmental spending on mental health services is extremely low; WHO’s Mental health atlas 2011 survey revealed that an average of only 3 percent of health budgets is spent on mental health, ranging from less than 1 percent in low-income countries to 5 percent in high-income countries.

The personal, social and economic costs and the large proportion of people who are not receiving any treatment, despite the availability of cheap and effective care, underscore the importance of overcoming this challenge, says WHO.

Depression is the focus of this year’s World Health Day, which falls on April 7 every year to mark the anniversary of the founding of the WHO and providing an opportunity to mobilise action around a specific health topic of global concern.