Anxiety and depression

1. Key messages

In 2018, around one in ten person had an anxiety disorder and/or a depressive disorder. The prevalence of anxiety disorders remained at the same level as in 2013 (11% vs 10%) but was still higher than in the period 2001-2008 (just over 6%).

Anxiety and depression are more prevalent in women. In general, the indicators of mental health show a better situation in the Flemish region compared to the two other regions. Mental health also differs by educational level: mental health disorders were more frequent in the lowest educated group compared to the highest educated group.

2. Background

Mental health is the capacity of each of us to feel, think, and act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face. It is a positive sense of emotional and spiritual well-being that respects the importance of culture, equity, social justice, interconnections, and personal dignity [1]. Due to the high frequency of mental problems in western societies and the significance of their costs in human, social, and economic terms, mental health is now regarded as a public health priority. In Belgium, the Health Interview Survey is one of the main sources of systematic data on mental health parameters in the general population.

Among the various dimensions of mental health that are monitored in this survey, we focus on the following two disorders:

However, it should be noted that the evaluation of mental health problems in the population through a health survey has a number of limitations. These are mainly related to the fact that the estimates are based on screening instruments for psychological problems and thus are not obtained by clinical diagnostic tools, which may be more nuanced. Nevertheless, the results of general population health surveys are generally in line with the findings of specific mental health surveys.

Information about the anxiety and depressive disorders during the COVID-19 crisis can be found on the COVID-19 impact page.

More serious mental health disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorders are not presented here. Indeed, health interview surveys are not a valid instrument to capture such complex conditions. Moreover, information about suicidal behaviours can be found on a specific page.

3. Mental health disorders

Situation in 2018

Belgium

Based on the assessment of the psychometric instruments, in 2018, 11.2% of the total Belgian population had an anxiety disorder and 9.4% had a depressive disorder. For both disorders, women had a higher prevalence (14.2% for anxiety and 10.7% for depression) than men (7.9% for anxiety and 8% for depression).

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders

Prevalence of anxiety disorders by age and sex, Belgium, 2018
Source: Health Interview Survey, Sciensano, 2018 [2]

Prevalence of depressive disorders by age and sex, Belgium, 2018
Source: Health Interview Survey, Sciensano, 2018 [2]

Regional specificities

Wallonia had a higher prevalence of anxiety and depressive disorders than Brussels and Flanders and Brussels had a higher prevalence than Flanders.

Trends

Belgium

Between 2008 and 2013, the prevalence of anxiety disorders increased in Belgium in both genders and has stayed more or less stable since then.

Between 2008 and 2013, the prevalence of depressive disorders increased in both genders. It slightly decreased in men and more clearly decreased in women in 2018.

However, since the questionnaires used were changed between the 2013 and 2018 surveys, trends should be interpreted with caution.

Regional specificities

Between 2008 and 2013, the prevalence of anxiety disorders increased in all regions. Between 2013 and 2018, it continued to sharply increase in Wallonia in both genders, but not in the other regions.

The prevalence of depressive disorders was lower in Flanders than in Brussels and Wallonia in all years in women and since 2004 in men.

  • Men
  • Women

Prevalence of anxiety disorders in men in Belgium and its regions, 2001-2018b
break in series, change of instrument
Source: Own calculations based on Health Interview Survey, Sciensano, 2001-2018 [2]

Prevalence of anxiety disorders in women in Belgium and its regions, 2001-2018b
break in series, change of instrument
Source: Own calculations based on Health Interview Survey, Sciensano, 2001-2018 [2]

  • Men
  • Women

Prevalence of depressive disorders in men in Belgium and its regions, 2001-2018b
break in series, change of instrument
Source: Own calculations based on Health Interview Survey, Sciensano, 2001-2018 [2]

Prevalence of depressive disorders in women in Belgium and its regions, 2001-2018b
break in series, change of instrument
Source: Own calculations based on Health Interview Survey, Sciensano, 2001-2018 [2]

Socio-economic disparities

There is a strong socio-economic gradient in the prevalence of mental health disorders. After age-adjustment, anxiety disorders were 2.3 times more frequent in people from the lowest educational group compared to the highest educational group. Depressive disorders were 3 times more frequent in people from the lowest educational group compared to the highest educational group.

Prevalence of anxiety and depressive disorders by educational level, Belgium, 2018
Source: Own calculations based on Health Interview Survey, Sciensano, 2018 [2]

4. Read more

View the metadata for this indicator

HISIA: Interactive Analysis of the Belgian Health Interview Survey

Definitions

GAD-7: General Anxiety Disorder 7-item
The GAD-7 is a screening tool for general anxiety disorder. Participants are asked to evaluate the frequency, if ever, of experiencing 7 core symptoms in the last 2 weeks. The scores obtained allow to evaluate the symptom severity.
Anxiety disorders
Participants with a score of 10 or over out of 21 in the GAD-7 tool were considered to have an anxiety disorder.
PHQ-9: Patient Health Questionnaire 9-item depression scale
The PHQ-9 is a screening tool for major depressive disorder and other depressive disorders. Participants are asked to evaluate the frequency in which they have been bothered by 9 problems in the last 2 weeks.
Depressive disorders
Participants with a combination of answers meeting the criteria specific for major depressive disorder and other depressive disorders for the PHQ-9 were considered to have a depressive disorder.

References

  1. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/health-promotion/mental-health/mental-health-promotion.html
  2. Health Interview Survey, Sciensano, 1997-2018. https://his.wiv-isp.be/