Lies, damn lies and statistics

I was back at university last week studying a public health course and as part of it this graph was shared to discuss (and little did they know that it would then pop up here on my blog!)

WHO 2002 major burden of disease

What I find striking about this graph is that 12 years ago alcohol was recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the 3rd leading risk factor for major disease burden in developed countries.

Now compare it to this statistic:

The WHO estimates that by 2020 depression will impose the second biggest health burden globally (source).  So, letting that sink in for a bit, within the next 6 years depression will impose a bigger health burden than cardiovascular disease for which high blood pressure (no 2 in the chart above) is a contributory risk factor.   That begs the question, what are the contributory risk factors for depression?  Using the same logic I applied to cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure is alcohol one of them?  We know that alcohol is a depressant (source).

Now I’m not saying that there is a causal relationship here between booze and depression but what the hell is going on?  How has depression become such a huge public health issue?  The relationship between alcohol and depression is directly correlated (dependent) with up to 50% of alcoholics presenting with symptoms of major depression.  We also know that alcohol and depression are co-morbid (so the same person can have both at the same time) and which anecdotal evidence from my experience and our small community supports (see the comments on these two posts).  I self-medicated my depression with alcohol and this is likely to have made my depression worse.

If the WHO have known for 12 years that alcohol is such an issue – why has more not been done?  If we know that depression is becoming such an issue globally, again why are we not doing something about it, including researching the risk factors and paying particular attention to alcohol and looking at co-morbidity?   Inquiring minds would like to know …….

and if anyone does have any evidence of this kind of research I would love to see it either in the comments below or you can email me :)

12 thoughts on “Lies, damn lies and statistics

  1. Wow what an interesting blog. I think you have a made many interesting points. I know from a personal point of view drink caused/exacerbated my depression and I am still not out of the woods. I also believe poor nutrition didn’t help my mental health either. Thanks for this xxx

  2. I don’t know whether I suffered depression before I started drinking but I do know that I felt depressed for many years whilst I was drinking. In the last 100 days I have only felt ‘down’ once. My moods have completely changed. Very interesting.

  3. This is such an fascinating post – don’t know of any evidence, but would also be interested in knowing whether there is any research in this area. Mental health and alcohol is such a tangled web. We know that there is a vicious circle with alcohol, with attempts to self medicate leading to lower self worth, more bad feelings and more drinking. You have also talked in the past about how alcohol can lower the efficacy of anti-depressant medication, presumably there is research data on this? I guess it depends on the type of medication? I don’t know how many GPs have an open dialogue with their patients about drinking, particularly those presenting with symptoms of depression. I know it’s a dialogue I would have avoided at all costs when I was drinking, so I’ve no idea how easy / possible it would be. xxx

    1. Hi MTM glad this fascinates you too! Have followed my own request and today went digging for research and have found some. Will read, digest and post a summary on the blog :)

  4. You ask why nothing is being done when WHO have been highlighting the problem for 12 years? You may be interested to know that Dr Andrew Langford of the British Liver Foundation spoke at the recent soberistas meeting at York. He told us he had been involved in the government’s alcohol strategy. At the last minute this issue was moved from being the remit of Health into the Home Office. This meant the alcohol problem in our country is being led from a law and order perspective instead of a health one. He said that this totally missed the point. I don’t know how you get the ‘evidence’ but it seems the government get a lot of ‘support’ from the alcohol industry. Alcohol was moved from health to the home office due to pressure from ‘someone’ It is being swept under the carpet and I guess as consumers and voters it is up to us all to make some noise :)

    1. That’s really interesting to know Kim and thanks for sharing. How is alcohol not a health issue?! Yes it impacts on law and order but …… *words fail me* :(

    1. Hi Jen – Yes I saw it the day it live streamed for free. Really hopeful for you guys in the US but we are many years behind you :( xx

  5. Very interesting post. I wish I knew of some research to share, but I only have anecdotal evidence (my own): I thought I suffered from depression and alcoholism until I quit drinking. My depression is completely gone – I mean completely. It amazes me that I drank myself miserable for so many years.

    1. Anecdotal is as good as statistical evidence in my book – I’m a qualitative data kinda girl ;) So glad to hear that your depression has completely gone. The question remains how many others of us are out there drinking themselves miserable and how do we tackle that without action from public health in raising the issue in our cultural awareness?

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