By: Olivia Pickett



Since 1990, the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) project has highlighted the most prevalent public health concerns worldwide, reporting health data from a consortium of more than 3,600 researchers in more than 145 countries. GBD has served as a tool to inform policy makers, direct public health funding, and predict future health trends.

The most recent GBD 2017 comes with significant methodological improvements from its predecessors, featuring a total of 359 diseases and injuries, forecasting predictions of goal attainment through 2030, and even adding new factors such as bullying victimization. It is clear that GBD is changing with the times, but what about its results? Below are some of the important takeaways from the GBD 2017.  


“…an urgent warning signal from a

fragile and fragmented world.”

The health of the population is worsening

The Lancet editorial of GBD 2017 emphasizes a worrisome shift after careful analysis of GBD 2017. “Instead of the progress updates we have become accustomed to, GBD 2017 comes as an urgent warning signal from a fragile and fragmented world.” This warning stems from rising rates of mortality, violence, conflict, terrorism, opioid dependence, depression, and other non-communicable diseases. For example, depression rates have been captured globally with GBD since 1990.  By tracking data over decades, we can understand how many people are affected by depression and track progress with respect to efforts to reduce suffering associated with the disorder.


In 2017, depressive disorders were the third leading cause of years lived with disability (YLD).

As if the title doesn’t sound alarming enough, the GBD states that depressive disorders - along with low back pain and headache disorders - have prevailed as one of the top four leading causes of years lived with disability (YLD) for nearly 30 years. These leading causes of disability have collectively caused over 162 million YLDs in 2017.


Non-Communicable diseases accounted for only 2% of health funding in the US in 2017, despite comprising the majority of health problems worldwide.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are diseases that cannot be transmitted from person-to-person.  Depression is a NCD. NCDs accounted for 6 of the top 7 leading causes of disability in 2017. Additionally, NCDs were the cause of 67% of deaths in 2016, underscoring the need for prevention and effective care. Despite their burden and prevalence, only 2% of health funding was dedicated to NCDs in 2017.  Thus, there is a disparity between the burden of NCD and the funding resources available to prevent and treat these conditions.

The overall disease burden of depressive disorders has increased by 14.3%.

Over the past 10 years, there has been a 14.3% observed increase in the number of disability adjusted life years (DALYs) due to depressive disorders globally. Disability adjusted life years (DALYs) is a measure of disease burden accounting for both premature mortality and prevalence and severity of ill health.  It is calculated by adding years of life lost due to disability and years lived with disability.  These findings mean that not only are more people suffering from depression, but the actual duration and severity of their suffering is increasing.

We are far away from reaching the Sustainable Development Goals of 2030.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aka “The 2030 Agenda” was set in 2015 by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a way to improve global health by setting goals and implementing strategies to achieve these goals by 2030. One of the SDGs examines mental health and well-being, aiming to reduce premature mortality from NCDs by one-third through prevention and treatment, and mental health and well-being promotion. However, GBD 2017 concluded that we are far off track from reaching WHO’s health-related Sustainable Development goals by 2030. In fact, the Lancet states, “no country is on track to meet all of WHO’s health-related SDGs by 2030.”

What is clear is that our actions—or inaction—today will ultimately dictate how close the world, collectively, can get to leaving no one behind by 2030.
— GBD 2017 SDG Collaborators

What do we do now?

These findings highlight the importance of immediate action to address depression, as well as other leading causes of global disease burden. In order to slow the increase of depression burden worldwide, we must improve our understanding of the causes of depression, implement effective preventative strategies to prevent its first onset, and find cost-effective ways to do so.

Interested in Learning More?

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) offers an interactive tool called GBD compare where users can generate a wide range of graphics that compare all of the GBD causes and risks by country, age, sex, and even expected and observed trends over time. If you are interested in learning more about the GBD study and see its recent data, please visit their website.