Every year the 7th of April is commemorated as World Health Day, to mark the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization. This year the theme selected by the WHO is Depression: Let’s Talk.
Globally it is estimated that 300 million people of all ages experience depression, and depression is currently the leading cause of disability worldwide. It is therefore crucial that people are educated about depression, and that all sectors of society are encouraged to speak openly and honestly about their experiences and struggles. Depression can affect anyone regardless of age, race, gender or socioeconomic status. The disorder can greatly impact a person’s ability to carry out even the simplest everyday tasks, with sometimes devastating consequences for relationships with family and friends as well as the ability to function at school or work.
Although all aspects of society may be affected by depression, the South African Federation for Mental Health is appealing to Government, teachers, parents, social workers, and all members of society to place specific emphasis on the mental health of South African youth.
The 2008 National Youth at Risk Survey which focused on children and adolescents between grade 8 and 11 found that one in four youth (24.7%) reported feeling sad or hopeless, and just under 18% had made at least one suicide attempt. Only 37.2% of youth who reported feelings of sadness had sought treatment from a counsellor or doctor. World-wide suicide is now listed as the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year olds according to the WHO. Depression is associated with increased risks of substance abuse, unemployment, early pregnancy, and educational underachievement. It is crucial that young people experiencing depression feel safe and comfortable to open up about their struggles, and to seek the correct help and treatment they need.
Research has shown that there are a number of factors that make a person more likely to develop depression, these include environmental factors such as adverse childhood experiences like abuse or poverty, stressful life events such as the loss of a job, death of a loved one or exposure to physical violence. There is also a genetic and physiological component as first degree relatives of someone with major depressive disorder are two to four times more likely to develop the disorder. Depression often remains largely underreported by teens with studies finding that it often takes several years before depressed adolescents and children receive appropriate treatment. This treatment gap is in part due to stigma and fear of discrimination.
On World Health Day SAFMH calls on all South Africans to begin talking openly about depression, and to thereby combat the stigma and misinformation surrounding mental health. Young people struggling with feelings of depression, or any other mental health problems, are encouraged to seek professional help so that they can access the correct forms of treatment.
Symptoms of Depression to look out for:
• Sad, low, or irritable mood or feeling nothing
• Decreased interest or pleasure in activities
• Change in appetite or weight
• Sleeping more or less than usual
• Feeling restless or slowed down
• Fatigue or loss of energy
• Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
• Decreased concentration
• Sense of hopelessness
• Substance abuse
• Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
Issued by SA Federation for Mental Health