Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the world today, affecting over 322 million people in the world today, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Particularly concerning are findings that depression may be becoming more common, with reports from the WHO suggesting that it has increased by more than 18% since 2005 and that it will be the leading cause of disability globally by 2030. There are also reports to suggest increases among in adolescents in particular. It is unclear how many people in South Africa suffer from depression with findings from the South African Stress and Health study in 2003 indicating an annual rate of 4.9% whilst some studies have shown rates of as high as 39% among particularly vulnerable groups.
Tragically, despite the fact that most cases of depression can be treated effectively and affordably, most sufferers do not get the help they need. This can lead to a range of related problems, including drug abuse, loss of economic opportunities and even suicide. There are a number of reasons for this, including a lack of treatment facilities, stigma and failure to accept or even recognise the condition.
Core symptoms of depression are a low mood or an inability to experience pleasure, this must be present most of the time for at least two weeks and is associated with a number of other symptoms including sleep disturbance, a loss of appetite and energy and decreased libido. Associated feelings include a sense of worthlessness and hopelessness, inappropriate guilt feelings and low-self-esteem. There is usually difficulty in concentrating or even and sense that thinking is slow and there may also be agitation, irritability, withdrawal or self-neglect.
It is important that anyone with possible depression is checked out by a medical practitioner as many of the causes of depression may be associated with another medical illness. Help may come in the form of medication, psychotherapy or counselling. It is also important to pay attention to broader aspects of one’s well-being, with exercise, a healthy diet, social support and cessation of substance abuse key elements of the road to recovery.
We all need to acknowledge how common depression is in our society and to talk about it in a way that makes it clear that it is not something to be ashamed of. Depression can affect anyone and people with depression need access to treatment and they need our support!
If you think you might have depression or know someone who might please contact your nearest health service. A useful resources is the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), who can be contacted at sadag.org or at the following numbers: 011 234 4837 (mental health line); 0800 21 22 23 to find a support group.
They also have a suicide crisis line at: 0800 567 567