Over 300 million people are affected by depression – WHO

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says about 322 million people around the world are affected by depression, and needed serious collaborative support from stakeholders to address the growing health challenge.

Dr Owen Kaluwa, Country Representative of WHO, who revealed this at launch of this year’s World Health Day in Accra on Friday, said depression affected people of all ages, from all walks of life and in all countries.

He also said depression currently affected close to 30 million people from the African Region, meaning that everyone was at risk, due to the numerous negative circumstances that people faced daily in their lives, which makes them sad and miserable from time to time.

New estimates of depression, he said, show an increase by 18.4 per cent between 2005 and 2015, with more than 80 percent of the affected, living in low and middle-income countries, he said.

The celebrations, which was jointly organised by the Ministry of Health and the Mental Health Authority in collaboration with the WHO focused on the topic: “Depression-Let’s Talk”, and aimed at drawing attention to the global burden of the common mental health disorder, with the objective of ensuring that more people with depression in all countries seek and get help.

The Day also offered an opportunity to encourage governments and civil society around the world to address the problem as a widespread illness that affected individuals, their families and their peers, and to recognize that it was a treatable condition.

Dr Kaluwa said despite the seriousness of the situation, resources to prevent, identify and treat mental health problems such as depression were scarce, saying the Africa Region as a whole and Ghana particularly, was faced with a critical shortage of qualified professionals, with the current ratio being just one psychiatrist per 1.5 million people and a similar number of psychologists.

He said the Mental Health workforce of the psychiatric nurses; occupational therapists and social workers were woefully inadequate, notwithstanding the worrying challenges of unavailability of psychotropic medicines, proper information with well-structured psychotherapy and other effective measures for primary health care services to treat depression.

The WHO he said, had published guidelines to help countries to increase and improve healthcare services for people with mental health disorders through care provided by health workers who were not specialists in that field.

These he said include the mental health Global Action Programme and interventions guide, and the Global Mental Health Action Plan (2013-2020); saying with proper care, psychosocial assistance and medication, millions of people in the Region with depression could begin to lead normal lives, even where resources were scarce.

Dr Kaluwa further called for stronger collaboration among governments, health partners and civil society to bring depression out of the shadows in the Region, and urged the Ministry of Health to support mental health programmes by allocating adequate human and financial resources to respond to the growing burden.

He cited interventions such as school-based programmes to provide counseling and support to persons with the condition and the development of community-based services to address stigma and other forms of discriminations against affected persons.

Dr Joseph B. Asare, who was the Former Chairman of the Ghana Mental Health Authority, in a presentation on the theme, said depression was a socio-moral challenge which affected people of all ages, from all walks of life, in all countries, and was a widespread illnesses, with the causative factors including poverty, unemployment, loss of loved ones and lack of self-esteem.

The condition he said could be looked at as a common mental illness characterized by persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that the accepted persons normally enjoyed, accompanied by an inability to carry out daily activities, for at least two weeks, and must be treated with urgency from the very early stages of human development, particularly among children.

He explained that people with clinical depression would have symptoms such as sad or irritable mood that does not go away, loss of enjoyment and interest in activities that used to be enjoyable, lack of energy and tiredness, feeling worthless or guilty about nothing, loss of appetite or eating too much, sleeping difficulties, thinking about death and difficulty in concentrating or making decisions.

The situation, he said was becoming more worrying as statistics kept rising, adding that, stigma and fear of social isolation were the major barriers to seeking help, and called for urgent for support, to prevent and treat those affected, saying the condition could lead to devastating consequences including suicide.

Dr Asare said depression could be prevented through the provision of adequate public knowledge, proper parenting, encouraging good interpersonal relationship, ensuring good mental health practices such as assertiveness, self-identity and acceptance and regular exercise.

He urged the public to be alert of the early signs of depressive disorders and report for treatment.