Let’s start a conversation about depression

Monday April 10 2017

By Syriacus Buguzi @buguzi sbuguzi@tz.nationmedia.co.tz

As Tanzania joined other countries to mark World Health Day last weekend, the World Health Organisation (WHO) underscored the need for governments’ to intervene in dealing with depression.

A decade ago in Tanzania, mental health experts were already warning of depression—and now, the awareness campaigns haven’t stopped.

Depression is a debilitating disorder linked to suicide and the leading cause of disability worldwide.

From Dr Sylivia Kaaya from the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (Muhas), an analysis of facility based data by diagnosis collected from 20 Regions in Tanzania from 2006-2007, showed that depression accounted for 7.5 per cent of all reported (89,045) patients with mental disorders.

By 2015, the number of people globally living with depression, according to a revised definition, had reached 322 million, up 18.4 per cent since 2005, the WHO said last week.

“These new figures are a wake-up call for all countries to rethink their approaches to mental health and to treat it with the urgency that it deserves,” WHO’s chief Margaret Chan said in a statement.

According to the agency’s definition, depression is more than just a bout off the blues.

It is a “persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that people normally enjoy, accompanied by an inability to carry out daily activities for two weeks or more.”

Lack of energy, shifts in appetite or sleep patterns, substance abuse, anxiety, feelings of worthlessness.

It also consumes a person with thoughts of self-harm or suicide, which are common and can wreak havoc on entire families.

The drop in productivity, and other medical conditions often linked to depression, also takes a financial toll, with the global cost estimated at USD1 trillion annually, the WHO said.

Shekhar Saxena, head of the agency’s mental health and substance abuse department, said on Thursday last week that both psycho-social and medical treatments could be highly effective, insisting on the importance of reaching more of those in need.

Even in the most developed countries, around half of people suffering from depression are not diagnosed or treated, and the percentage soars to between 80 and 90 per cent in less developed nations.

Treatment can be difficult to access, while a fear of stigma also prevents many people from seeking the help required to live healthy and productive lives, the agency said.

According to the WHO, every dollar invested in improving access to treatment leads to a return of USD4 in better health and productivity.

And “early identification and treatment of depression is a very effective means of decreasing death by suicide,” Saxena told reporters.

The poster-campaign of ‘Depression: Let’s talk’ put emphasis on conversing about the condition with near ones.