Support important for persons fighting depression: WHO

  • Though depression affects all groups, it is more common among adolescents and young adults

Kathmandu, April 6

Depression affects nearly 86 million people in South-East Asia Region, including Nepal, and if left untreated, in its most severe form can lead to suicide, warned World Health Organisation Regional Office for South-East Asia.

In a press release on the occasion of World Health Day, WHO called on individuals, communities and countries to talk more openly about depression and scale up the quality and reach of mental health services to prevent untold hardships and precious lives being cut short by depression, a condition that can be easily treated.

The day is celebrated on April 7 every year to mark the anniversary of the founding of WHO in 1948. Each year a theme is selected that highlights a priority area of public health and this year depression has been highlighted.

“Depression is an issue that needs to be heard. It can affect anyone at any stage of life, impacting relationships, work and social interactions, and impeding our ability to live

life to its fullest, whatever culture or community we belong to. Depression can be managed and overcome,” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director, WHO South-East Asia, said.

The World Health Day this year focuses on depression, a condition that involves persistent sadness or loss of interest or pleasure in things normally enjoyed. Talking about depression and raising awareness of its signs and symptoms can help people seek and get care, whether through informal support networks or the health system.

“By talking about depression more openly, and by better understanding the sign and symptoms of the condition, we are in a stronger position to help ourselves if we experience depression-like symptoms. We are also better placed to support colleagues, friends or loved ones that may have depression,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said.

Though depression affects all demographic groups, it is more commonly experienced by adolescents and young adults, women of childbearing age (particularly following childbirth), and adults over the age of 60. Depression can also lead to suicide, which is the second highest cause of death among 15-29 year olds in the region.

Depression often expresses itself as disturbed sleep or loss of appetite, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, or feelings of tiredness and lethargy. It may also manifest as agitation or physical restlessness, substance abuse, reduced concentration and suicidal thoughts or acts.

“People experiencing depression often find a range of evidence-based coping mechanisms useful, from talking to someone they trust to exercising regularly or staying connected with loved ones. Avoiding or restricting alcohol intake and refraining from using illicit drugs helps keep depression at bay. But many people also find professional help an important part of managing the condition, particularly in terms of exploring treatment options,” she said.

Dr Khetrapal Singh emphasised how support for persons experiencing depression is vitally important, outlining how each of us can play a positive role. “Listening without judgment and finding out more about depression is a great way to support someone with depression. We may also help them with everyday tasks, encourage eating and sleeping patterns, and join them for an exercise session such as yoga,” she said.

Depression-related health services across the region must be made more accessible and of higher quality, and this is possible even in low- and middle-income settings, she said. A report said that the prevalence of depression is yet to be officially assessed in Nepal.

Depression and anxiety are important mental health conditions in Nepal, and major contributors to public ill health, being very highly prevalent, co-morbid and associated with psycho-social burden.