Depression: why don’t we talk about it?
The other day when I was watching television I saw an advertisement telling how people discriminate with people suffering from HIV/AIDS and how they should not do that, that advertisement comes very frequently and I have seen signage’ and advertisement boards at various places about how HIV spreads and what to do to prevent it and how people suffering from it should not be stigmatized. I felt good about that at least there are efforts to reduce the stigma and myths regarding HIV/AIDS but at the same time I wondered no one talks about an even more widespread, stigmatised and taboo domain of mental health. We see no advertisement, no reminders, no campaigns to address the area of neglected mental health riddled with stigma and myths. Depression for example is the leading cause of disability and morbidity worldwide and as per latest World Health Organization (WHO) estimates India has the highest number of people suffering from depression. More than 250,000 people commit suicide every year in our country making it the capital of young suicides in the world, and it’s a known fact that depression is the a major cause contributing to suicides. We don’t have exact data about how many hours of work are wasted, how many people lose their quality of life including work, leisure, health and relationships due to depression in our country but going by WHO data for the world, depression is the single largest contributor to global burden of diseases affecting quality of life of over 300 million people worldwide. Unfortunately most of the patients remain untreated, as per WHO less than ten percent of patients with depression are properly treated or seek treatment. Reasons for this gap are many, lack of resources, lack of awareness, lack of mental health care professionals and most importantly stigma associated with being a mentally ill patient in our country. Hence there is a need to talk about depression, there is need to stop this silent suffering. WHO’s theme for world health day 7th April 2017 is “Depression: Let’s Talk” that rightly highlights WHO’s concerns about depression being a major contributor to disability and morbidity worldwide and the need to put in efforts to address this issue.
So what is depression?
Depression is not the usual temporary sadness we experience in dealing with day to day unpleasant situations but rather it’s a combination of the following lasting two weeks or more
Sad mood most of the time
Lack of interest in activities which earlier provided joy
Sleep disturbance in form of increased or decreased sleep
Increased or decreased appetite
Feeling hopeless, worthless, helpless or guilty
Lethargy and decreased energy
Thoughts of self harm or suicide
Forgetfulness or lack of concentration
Apart from these symptoms a person suffering from depression may have significant anxiety, restlessness, irritability or unexplained medical symptoms like aches and pains in the body or gastric disturbance.
What to do if you recognize these changes in someone close to you?
Talk with the person, listen… listen… listen. Don’t be judgemental, don’t rush…you just being there and just being a good listener will provide some relief to the person affected with depression. Try to empathize and understand what the person is going through. Encourage the person to indulge in activities that the person used to enjoy earlier. Help the person receive professional mental health care. If the person expresses death wishes or has done self harm recently do not leave the person alone and remove all potentially harmful objects like medicines etc away from the person and take the person to a mental health care professional or a psychiatrist as soon as possible.
What should you do if you find you are having depression?
First of all talk to someone you trust as talking and expressing helps a great deal in dealing with depression. Indulge in activities which earlier provided you joy although it’s difficult but it definitely helps. Understand that you are depressed and hence you are suffering from a clinical disorder hence you may not be able to do certain things the same way you were doing earlier. Take professional help as soon as possible; meet a psychiatrist or your local physician if psychiatrist is not available. Remember with right treatment you will get better. Exercise regularly and keep in touch with your friends and family and stay away from alcohol or any other substance.
Is depression treatable?
Yes depression is fairly treatable with medicines and psychotherapy or talk therapy. Treatment is decided depending upon the severity of depressive episode. Most of the patients recover and lead a quality life with proper treatment.
What can I do as an individual to help this cause?
You can help a great deal by becoming aware and sharing and spreading this fact in the society that depression or mental illness is just an illness like any other physical illness which should be properly treated and a depressed patient deserves the same respect and dignity that a physically ill patient deserves.