World Health Organization (WHO) has come out, calling on individuals and communities to speak out against depression and fight the stigma surrounding it.
The slogan for World Health Day being marked on Friday is “Depression: let’s talk”. Talking about depression helps break down stigma and encourages more people to seek help.
More than 300 million people are a victim of depression with an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015. Depression is an illness in which people feel overwhelming sadness, lose interest in activities they enjoy and find it difficult to carry out daily tasks. It can affect anyone, anywhere, especially populations experiencing humanitarian crises. In the Eastern Mediterranean Region, as many as 1 in 5 people are affected by depression and anxiety in countries affected by armed conflict, insecurity and displacement.
Dr Fikri, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, says, “Despite common misperceptions, depression is not a sign of weakness but stigma and discrimination are preventing people from seeking the care they need. Effective treatment is available through talking therapies and antidepressant medications, or a combination of both.”
Depression is treatable, failure to act is costly
In many countries of the world, there is little or no support available for people with mental health disorders. Even in high-income countries, nearly 50% of people with depression do not get treatment. Investment in mental health makes financial and social sense, and failure to act is costly. If untreated, depression can be debilitating and even lead to suicide, which is the second leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year olds.
“Governments can improve mental health services, families and communities can provide social support, civil society groups can raise awareness and individuals can seek help and treatment and talk to others about how they feel,” urges Dr Fikri.
Mental health services are also being provided in some countries by non-specialist general practitioners under the supervision of national specialists, trained through the WHO Mental Health Gap Action Programme, introduced in more than 90 low- and middle-income countries around the world. This scaling up of mental health services and care is crucial, especially for the most vulnerable populations experiencing humanitarian crises, conflict and displacement.
Depression has many causes. A combination of physical, psychological or social factors can cause depression. Some of these factors include:
- a family history of depression
- loss of a parent, child or other close relative or friend
- chronic physical illnesses
- alcohol or drug use
- extreme stressors like war, conflict or natural disasters
- experiencing adversity and abuse in childhood
- rapid changes in life situations like marriage, childbirth or loss of a job
- financial problems
- belonging to a minority group, and marital difficulties.
However, having strong social support can help ease some of the effects of these factors.
Low levels of recognition and access to care for depression and another common mental disorder, such as anxiety, result in a global economic loss of more than US$ 1 trillion every year. The losses are incurred by households, employers and governments: for households, with absence from work affecting household income; for employers, with lower productivity of employees when at work and absence from work; and for governments, with higher health and welfare expenditures. Yet, every US$ 1 invested in scaling up treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a return of US$ 4 in improved health and ability to work.