Objective: This paper addresses the prevention and treatment of depression in the general population. It argues that the public health burden of depression cannot be effectively tackled solely at the level of the treatment of individuals; in addition, coherent strategies by national governments are required. It summarises some of the public health interventions that were undertaken in England by the government to reduce the risk factors associated with depression in increase detection and treatment and to destigmatise this disorder. Lessons learned from this experience are described.
Methods: To assess the scope for collective public interventions, a national psychiatric morbidity study was commissioned. The Government set targets for reducing psychiatric morbidity and suicide. Research related to depression was commissioned. A public information strategy was launched to increase understanding and reduce stigma, including a five year 'Defeat Depression' Campaign. Particular attention was paid to updating General Practitioners in the recognition, detection and management of depression. Government departments worked with employers and trade union organisations to attempt to reduce work-induced stress. Universal and selective prevention measures aimed to reduce factors associated with depression, such as unemployment. Measures to reduce suicide include education of health and social care professionals, supporting high-risk groups and restricting access to means of suicide. The impact of these strategies is difficult to assess and will not be apparent until the national psychiatric morbidity study is repeated in 2001. The overall suicide rate fell by 11.7% in five years.