Background: Depression is a major health problem, and there is a growing awareness of the economic burden imposed by depressive disorders.
Material and methods: A review of the literature on the societal cost of depression is presented in a comparison of the two major studies on the topic and a discussion of the feasibility of reducing costs.
Results: Estimating the societal cost of depression is complicated and estimates differ a great deal. The costs are, however, considerable with morbidity costs constituting the largest component. Depression is underdiagnosed and undertreated, but the majority of patients can be effectively treated; thus, in theory, cost reductions should be feasible. After the controversial Gotland study it was claimed that improving the skills of general practitioners in diagnosing and treating the disorder might reduce its societal costs considerably. However, these results were not reproduced in the randomized controlled Hampshire study.
Interpretation: It is uncertain to what degree it is possible to reduce the societal costs of depression. Research on the health economics of depressive disorders should be given priority.