Friday, April 07, 2017

World Health Day 2017

Today is World Health Day, a program of the World Health Organization.

This year, the topic is depression. WHO estimates more than 300 million people have depression, an increase of more than 18% since 2005. In my opinion, this is a low estimate.

In the United States, people often lack of support for mental disorders. People who have mental health concerns often fear the stigma associated with depression or other mental concerns. This  prevents many from seeking the treatment they need to live healthy, productive lives.

Society needs to address issues of prejudice and discrimination with regards to mental illness before this issue will be properly addressed. A person who is depressed needs someone to talk to, a person to trust.

Admitting the problem is often the first step towards treatment and recovery.

Additionally, governments at all levels need to invest more in mental health support. 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.

Here in Virginia, we've seen how the lack of government involvement in this very serious issue adds up to bloody fatalities. In 2007, Virginia Tech lost 32 students in a mass shooting by a student known to have serious mental health issues. However, teacher concerns were not addressed.

In 2014, Virginia Senator Creigh Deeds was brutally attacked and stabbed by his own son, who then killed himself, after the young man was released because local resources could not find a safe place for him.

Those are just two incidents that readily come to mind when one thinks about depression and mental health issues today.

Treatment involves either a talking therapy or antidepressant medication or a combination of the two.  More than 90 countries, of all income levels, have introduced or scaled-up programs that provide treatment for depression and other mental disorders.

Failure to act is costly. According to a WHO-led study, which calculated treatment costs and health outcomes in 36 low-, middle- and high-income countries for the 15 years from 2016-2030, low levels of recognition and access to care for depression and another common mental disorder, anxiety, result in a global economic loss of a trillion US dollars every year. The losses are incurred by households, employers and governments. Households lose out financially when people cannot work. Employers suffer when employees become less productive and are unable to work. Governments have to pay higher health and welfare expenditures.

Additionally, there are strong links between depression and other non-communicable disorders and diseases. Depression increases the risk of substance use disorders and diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. People with these other conditions have a higher risk of depression.

Depression is also an important risk factor for suicide, which claims hundreds of thousands of lives each year. It is a common mental illness characterized by persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that people normally enjoy, accompanied by an inability to carry out daily activities, for 14 days or longer.

In addition, people with depression normally have several of the following: a loss of energy; a change in appetite; sleeping more or less; anxiety; reduced concentration; indecisiveness; restlessness; feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or hopelessness; and thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

If you or someone you know suffers from depression, help is available. In Virginia, Veterans may call the Veterans Crisis line 1-800-273-8255, press 1 or visit their website at

Others can contact a local public health office for more information. This website lists local health districts for Virginia.

You can also find additional information at the National Alliance on Mental Illness website.

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