Depression Is Leading Cause Of Ill Health Worldwide: How To Combat The Scourge


After the World Health Organization issued a statement naming depression as the world's leading cause of sickness and disability, health regulators worldwide are looking into effective intervention strategies to offer support for people ailed by the mental disorder.

Part of the organization's initiative to combat depression is a year-long campaign called "Depression: let's talk," which encourages people all around the world to open up about their condition and seek help with managing their symptoms. WHO officials are also calling for a more substantial funding of depression treatments.

On a global scale, according to the WHO news release, more than 300 million people are currently living with depression, the number of cases rising by 18 percent in the last decade.

"These new figures are a wake-up call for all countries to re-think their approaches to mental health and to treat it with the urgency that it deserves," said Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General.

Investing In Depression Treatments

In view of the little support depression sufferers receive in numerous countries, which are not adequately equipped to manage this condition due to lack of resources, WHO stresses the importance of making treatment available for everyone everywhere in the world.

The organization suggests governments worldwide should up their investment in depression and anxiety treatment strategies, increasing the health budget percentage assigned for mental health disorders — which in low-income countries is under 1 percent, and goes up to only 5 percent in high-income ones.

Even in the latter, almost half the people diagnosed with depression go without treatment, says WHO.

To help implement these strategies and provide the much-needed assistance for depression patients to reintegrate in society and maintain productivity in the workplace, the WHO points to the mhGAP Intervention Guide - a series of guidelines designed for non-specialist health workers.

The Intervention Guide establishes treatment protocols through which health workers can offer therapy sessions or antidepressant medication, and is already being successfully employed in more than 90 countries.

In financial terms, investing in depression treatments leads to a fourfold return of the funds in better health and ability to work, while inaction could result in an annual global economic loss of a trillion US dollars in the next 15 years, reveals a WHO study of treatment costs and health outcomes in 36 countries.

Talking Therapy

Following the example of the WHO "Depression: let's talk" initiative, the British Royal House has started its own campaign to prioritize mental health and promote openness and dialog. Called "Heads Together," the project enlists the participation of celebrities and other individuals to record videos in which they share their own struggles with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

As Dr. Shekhar Saxena, director of WHO's Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, explains, starting a conversation in a safe environment about the pain of depression "is often the first step towards treatment and recovery," and can extensively improve life quality.

However, the British media implies more than words are needed to combat this debilitating affliction. The Guardian infers that, due to the high-profile cases it covers, the "Heads Together" campaign — although laudable — may not be completely relatable to the average worker, who might stand to benefit more from access to proper services and getting appropriate care.

The newspaper suggests a different approach, in which employers eradicate the stigma of depression in the workplace and provide non-judgmental platforms for employees to regularly talk about their emotional struggles.

This could be accomplished by encouraging senior employees to lead by their own example, giving junior staff members the cue to openly discuss their problems.

Education For Mental Health

The upcoming World Health Day, celebrated on April 7 and themed around depression recognition and treatment strategies, has prompted mental health experts from across the continent to also mobilize in combating this condition.

Last week, Kenyan and African psychiatrists took part in a conference organized by the Kenya Psychiatric Association, with the goal of finding solutions to curb depression rates in the region.

One of the main ideas debated at the conference was increasing the number of trained health workers and optimizing protocols to facilitate the detection of depression symptoms.

Another established priority was directing resources to mental health interventions, doubled by educating the public and policy makers alike on the importance of promptly addressing these issues. Lastly, preventative actions and promoting a healthy lifestyle were found equally necessary in the battle against depression.

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