I recently came across a disturbing statistic. The World Health Organization (WHO) has studied a number of factors that reduce both a person’s lifespan as well as their quality of life. The latter statistic is termed Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs), which is basically the number of years of quality life that get taken off because of one factor or another. They calculate these DALYs for each of the different parts of the world, and as you would expect, various diseases like tuberculosis and HIV are near the top of the list for developing nations. You would think that the so-called lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, would top the list in developing nations. However, you’d be wrong.

Depression is the #1 disease accounting for the greatest number of quality years of life lost in North America. In fact, on average, it accounts for 8.0 DALYs, or years of quality life lost due to the disability caused by the disease. This number is greater for North America than for any other part of the world. And no other country lists it as their top factor. I was astounded not just by the fact that depression topped the list in North America, but by the number of quality years it takes off the average depressed person’s life. Often people think of lifespan as being the number of years they live, but few people consider how many of those years are spent feeling healthy, happy and well. What good is it to live for 100 years if only 60 of those are healthy?

It’s time to start thinking more about quality of life and not longevity. If you or someone you know suffers from depression, this statistic should be enough reason to get out there and get some help. People don’t hesitate to seek help for other health problems, but rarely do so when it comes to their mental health. In fact, it takes on average 5 years for someone to seek help when they’re depressed. All of these factors contribute to the reason that depression is such a personal and social burden (at least in terms of DALYs). And if we factor in people who struggle with their weight and/or eating habits, the likelihood of having other related lifestyle diseases goes up.  This would account for even more DALYs, or years lost. Get a handle on your eating, and get a handle on what’s pushing you to eat (often feelings of depression), and not only will you feel better now, but you just may live longer too.