Depression is a common illness worldwide, with an estimated 350 million people affected. Approximately 20% of individuals will experience a major depressive episode in their lifetime with the rates continuing to rise. Depression is different from usual mood fluctuations and short-lived emotional responses to the hassles associated with daily life. Depression can become a serious health issue with significant morbidity (and mortality). This is especially true when it is long-lasting or when it is of moderate or severe intensity. It can cause the affected person to suffer greatly and function poorly at work, at school and in the family. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide. This is discussed further on a subsequent page.

Although there are effective treatments for depression, fewer than half of those affected in the world (in many countries, fewer than 10%) receive such treatments. Barriers to effective care include a lack of resources, a lack of trained health care providers, and social stigma associated with mental disorders. Another barrier to effective care is inaccurate assessment. In countries of all income levels, people who are depressed are often not correctly diagnosed.

Many people believe that only mentally and emotionally “strong” athletes can be competitive at the highest level, and that those with significant mental illness are not able to succeed. This is not correct. The German national team goalkeeper Robert Enke committed suicide while at the peak of his footballing powers. Enke had been suffering from depression for six years and was treated by a psychiatrist. Following his death, the Robert Enke Foundation was formed to help address the mental health of football players.