86 million people in South-East Asia affected by depression: WHO

New Delhi: Depression affects 86 million people in South-East Asia region, the WHO said on Thursday while lauding India for passing the Mental Healthcare Bill recently and asked nations to scale up mental health services quality.
Noting that depression can lead to suicide, which is the second highest cause of death among people of age group 15-29 years in the region, WHO’s South-East Asia Regional Director, Poonam Khetrapal Singh, said depression-related health services must be made more accessible and of higher quality.
On the eve of World Health Day, Singh said if untreated, the most severe form of depression can lead to suicide and asked communities to openly talk about the syndrome to prevent hardships and precious lives being cut short by it.
The World Health Day this year focuses on depression, a condition involving persistent sadness or loss of interest or pleasure in things normally enjoyed.
Singh complimented India for its recent legislation that decriminalizes suicide and seeks to provide healthcare and services for persons with mental health conditions.
“Mental health has been among the top 10 health priorities in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Indonesia, Maldives and Sri Lanka in recent years. Eight of the 11 member countries have mental health policies or plans,” she said.
“By talking about depression more openly and by better understanding of signs and symptoms of the condition, we are in a stronger position to help ourselves if we experience depression-like symptoms,” Singh said.
“We are also better placed to support colleagues, friends or loved ones who may have depression,” she said.
Though depression affects all demographic groups, it is more common among adolescents and youths, women of childbearing age (particularly following childbirth), and those above the age of 60.
Signs and symptoms of depression include disturbed sleep, loss of appetite, guilty feeling, low self-worth, feelings tired and lethargy. It may also manifest as agitation or physical restlessness, substance abuse, reduced concentration and suicidal thoughts or acts, Singh said.
“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 help keep depression at bay. But many people also find professional help an important part of managing the condition,” she said.
Emphasizing on how support for persons experiencing depression is vitally important, Singh said, “Health services across the region, related to depression, must be made more accessible and of higher quality. This is possible even in low and middle-income settings.”
“At present less than 1 per cent of governments’ health expenditure in low and middle-income countries is allocated for mental health,” she said.
Healthcare workers at all levels can be better trained to detect the signs and symptoms of depression, community health facilities can be better integrated with national mental health networks, Singh said.
World Health Day is celebrated on April 7 every year to mark the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization and each year a theme is selected that highlights a priority area of public health.

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