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World Health Day themed around depression this year

The World Health Organization (WHO) observes April 7 as World Health Day every year by theming it around a particular disorder. The whole idea is to create special awareness about that disorder in the minds of people all over the world.

This year’s theme is DEPRESSION – a major mental illness.

There is a definite reason and thinking behind this.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the WHO had predicted that by 2020 – Depression would emerge as the no. 1 killer disease worldwide, much ahead of cancer and heart related diseases.

At the beginning of 2017 itself, this prediction seems to be turning into reality, looking at the steep rise in the overall cases of depression worldwide both in the developing and developed countries. Therefore, it is of immense importance that the general public be made aware of and sensitised to the various aspects of depression.

As such, a great deal of ignorance, misinformation and misconceptions exist about mental disorders in the society. The overall outlook and attitude of society towards mental illness is negatively biased – bordering on ridicule. There seems to be a lot of social stigma attached to mental illness. As a result, people suffering from such disorders generally don’t come forward for treatment readily. Immediate relatives of such patients also show a lot of reluctance in bringing them to mental health professionals.

The extent of damage it causes to the patient in the form of morbidity and mortality is immense. The dependent family members of the patient also suffer financial difficulties and emotional trauma. The economy of the nation suffers due to the resultant loss in man hours.

Suicide obviously, is the worst outcome of depression, particularly the untreated one. No doubt the loss of precious life is immeasurable, but even otherwise, depression leads to self-neglect which in turn aggravates existing physical disorders like Diabetes and High Blood Pressure. This, in turn, indirectly increases the overall risk of various physical morbidities (complications) and mortality (death).

Loss of confidence and efficiency leads to decreased output. Loss of concentration may lead to mistakes and indecisiveness to unnecessary delays at work place.

Alcohol and substance abuse could be the fallout of depressed mood, leading to increased incidences of vehicular and other accidents. Taking into account the above mentioned possibilities, the extent of damage caused by depression can be fathomed.

It is very natural to feel temporarily depressed as a reaction to any significant setback in life, be it a failure in exams, interviews, competitions, love affairs, business/profession or loss of a near and dear one. Generally such a person recovers in due course and resumes normal life. On the other hand, in disorders like depression, the mood remains pessimistic and depressed for weeks or months and the severity is disproportional to the traumatic event.

Quite often, depression may hit a person without any obvious reason or trigger. Sadness of mood, ideas of helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness, guilt feelings leading to persistent self blame, lack of confidence, negative self-esteem and self-image, loss of drive, inability to enjoy otherwise

Pleasurable activities like food, music, films, dramas and loss of libido are the commonest symptoms of depression.

The future is perceived as totally bleak with no hope whatsoever for recovery. Recurrent thinking of being useless and burden on other family members may lead to suicidal ideations and at times the actual acts.

The good news is that depression is curable. If not, at least controllable in most of the cases, if there is timely intervention. Over a period of last few decades, many effective therapeutic options have evolved to tackle depression effectively, in the form of anti-depressant medicines, counselling, various forms of psychotherapies, cognitive behaviour therapy, help lines and what not!

In mild depression, only counselling, psychotherapy and suggestions as regards changes in lifestyle may suffice, whereas in moderate or severe depression, along with the above mentioned modalities, use of specific anti-depressant medicines is found to be generally effective.

In severe, resistant depression with active suicidal intent, use of Electro Convulsive Treatment assumes paramount importance.

Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about antidepressant medicines and ETCs, but it needs to be noted here that these are mere misconceptions.

All in all, there is no need to press the panic button or go into shell if a person suffers from depression.

The most important and prudent thing to do is to identify it in time, accept it realistically and seek professional help promptly.

Talking freely about the problem on hand with a responsible and trusted relative, friend, colleague or family physician is necessary to break the ice which should be followed by seeking appropriate professional help.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasise that on an overcast day when the clouds obscure the sun and everything is gloomy and grim, we must remember that this is temporary. The clouds will part, the sun will shine again and once again there will be light.


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