On World Health Day, WHO Laments Global Apathy To The Scourge Of Depression

by Kim Boateng Last updated on May 20th, 2017,

On World Health Day, WHO Laments Global Apathy To The Scourge Of Depression. The World Health Organization Friday marked World Health Day with the warning that depression is the most common cause of ill health, affecting some 300 million people worldwide, an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015. WHO’s year-long campaign theme this year is “Depression: let’s talk”. WHO also reiterated that depression is the leading cause of disability.

Every wondered why there are so many days dedicated to disease, disorders and body organs? It’s World Health Day today, World Parkinson’s Day and World Safe Motherhood Day on April 11, World Liver Day on April 19, Earth Day on April 22, World Heritage Day on April 18, World Immunisation Week beginning April 24, and World Malaria Day on April 25. For those of you who missed it, World Autism Day was on April 2. This is list for just the month of April.

The World Health Day, puts the spotlight on a different health concern each year and run campaigns on the theme through the year for health promotion. It was diabetes in 2016, food safety in 2015, and so on, and this year’s theme is depression, a disease often undiagnosed because people dismiss it as attention-seeking behaviour or a sign of weakness.

WHO identifies conflict, wars and natural disasters as major risk factors for depression. WHO estimates one in five people affected by these events suffers from depression or anxiety. Given the magnitude of the problem, it says mental health and psychosocial assistance should be a part of all humanitarian assistance.

WHO reports depression is the leading cause of disability. The director of WHO’s department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Shekhar Saxena, says depression is behind a global epidemic of death by suicide.

“All over the world, 800,000 people die because of suicide every year and this converts into a death every 40 seconds,” said Saxena. “So, while we are dealing with the number of deaths, which are of course very unfortunate in conflicts and wars, we also need to remember that there are silent epidemics going on in the world, which are also killing a very large number of people without obvious headlines and banners.”


Saxena says there is no significant difference in the prevalence of depression between developed and developing countries. He notes the majority of people with depression lives in low- and middle-income countries.

“Depression is more common amongst the women – 5.1 percent versus 3.6 percent amongst men,” said Saxena. “Other risk factors include poverty, discrimination, and all adverse life situations – either chronic or acute, especially amongst young people.”

Saxena says treatment usually involves psychotherapy, antidepressant medication or a combination of both. He says it is not necessary to have a specialist treat depression. He says the so-called talking cure administered by general doctors, nurses, or health care workers can be just as effective.

In the 1980s, the World Health Organisation’s director-general Half­dan Mahler steered through a declaration with the popular slogan “Health for all by the year 2000”.

We crossed into the 21st century without realising that noble goal. Although health has improved in most countries, due mainly to cleaner water and sanitation and also better treatment, much remains to be done.

As it pertains to depression, lack of support for people with mental disorders, coupled with a fear of stigma, prevent many from accessing the treatment they need to live healthy, productive lives.

Increased investment is also needed. In many countries, there is no, or very little, support available for people with mental health disorders. Even in high-income countries, nearly 50% of people with depression do not get treatment. On average, just 3% of government health budgets is invested in mental health, varying from less than 1% in low-income countries to 5% in high-income countries.

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