Tariro : Hope and Health for Zimbabwe Orphans joins the rest of the world in commemorating the World Health Day. World Health Day is celebrated on 7 April every year to mark the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organisation and it provides us with a unique opportunity to mobilise action around a specific health topic of concern to people all over the world.
Depression affects people of all ages, from all walks of life, in all countries. It causes mental anguish and impacts on people’s ability to carry out even the simplest everyday tasks, with sometimes devastating consequences for relationships with family and friends and the ability to earn a living. At worst, depression can lead to suicide, now the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year olds.
Yet, depression can be prevented and treated. A better understanding of what depression is, and how it can be prevented and treated, will help reduce the stigma associated with the condition, and lead to more people seeking help.
The overall goal of the 2017 World Health day campaign is to make sure that more people with depression, in all countries, seek and get help. We are called upon to focus on preventing and treating depression.
More specifically the campaign seeks to achieve the following:
- the general public is better informed about depression, its causes and possible consequences, including suicide, and what help is or can be available for prevention and treatment;
- People with depression seek help; and Family, friends and colleagues of people living with depression are able to provide support.
What is depression?
According to the Mayo clinic – Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems.
Everyone experiences an occasional blue mood; depression is a more pervasive experience of repetitive negative rumination, bleak outlook, and lack of energy. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. People with depression cannot merely “pull themselves together” and get better. There is some evidence that, painful as depression is, it serves a positive purpose, bringing with it ways of thinking that force people to focus on problems as a prelude to solving them.
Not everyone who is depressed or manic experiences every symptom. Some people experience a few symptoms, some many. Severity of symptoms varies among individuals and also varies over time. Some of the symptoms are
- Persistent sad, anxious, or empty mood
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
- Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Insomnia, early morning awakening or oversleeping
- Appetite and/or weight loss, or overeating and weight gain
- Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts
- Restlessness, irritability
- Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders and chronic pain .
There is no single known cause of depression. Rather, it likely results from a combination of genetic, biochemical, environmental, and psychological factors. Trauma, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or any stressful situation that overwhelms the ability to cope may trigger a depressive episode. Subsequent depressive episodes may occur with or without an obvious trigger.
Common signs and symptoms of depression in children and teenagers are similar to those of adults, but there can be some differences. In younger children, symptoms of depression may include sadness, irritability, clinginess, worry, aches and pains, refusing to go to school, or being underweight.
In teens, symptoms may include sadness, irritability, feeling negative and worthless, anger, poor performance or poor attendance at school, feeling misunderstood and extremely sensitive, using drugs or alcohol, eating or sleeping too much, self-harm, loss of interest in normal activities, and avoidance of social interaction. Let’s be on the lookout for depression symptoms in our children.
Research with brain-imaging technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), shows that the brains of people who have depression look different than those of people without depression. The parts of the brain responsible for regulating mood, thinking, sleep, appetite, and behaviour appear to function abnormally. In addition, the chemicals that brain cells use to communicate—neurotransmitters—may also be affected. It is not clear which changes seen in the brain may be the cause of depression and which ones the effect. Some types of depression tend to run in families, suggesting there may be some genetic vulnerability to the disorder.
Even in the most severe cases, depression is highly treatable. The condition is often cyclical, and early treatment may prevent or forestall recurrent episodes. Many studies show that the most effective treatment is cognitive behavioural therapy, which addresses problematic thought patterns, with or without the use of antidepressant drugs. In addition, evidence is quickly accumulating that regular mindfulness meditation, on its own or combined with cognitive therapy, can stop depression before it starts by effectively disengaging attention from the repetitive negative thoughts that often set in motion the downward spiral of mood.
As we commemorate this day let’s give a thought to all those suffering from depression. Let’s all demand for health policies that recognise the considerable public health burden of depression particularly in marginalised and vulnerable sections of society . Let’s advocate for preventive strategies for depression such as social policies aimed at increasing sex equality , eliminating poverty and building and strengthening social support networks for populations at risk.
STOP Depression! Count your blessings every day. You will find more things to be grateful for.