WHO “Depression: let’s talk” campaign calls for end to mental health stigma

Media release

Recently released data from the World Health Organization revealed depression as the leading contributor to disability worldwide. Moreover, between 2005 and 2015, the number of people living with depression grew to over 300 million people globally – an increase of over 18%. Less than half of people living with depression are receiving treatment – because of fear and discrimination arising from stigma, and lack of available services.

“People with mental illness should not suffer in silence. We need to talk openly and honestly about depression, to break down fear and stigma. Lives are at stake. Left untreated, depression can lead to suicide,” said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific.

“It is a tragedy that over 500 people take their lives each day in this Region, many of them young people. It makes me terribly sad to think that we are losing people in the prime of their lives,” Dr Shin added.

Globally, WHO estimates less than US$ 2 per person is spent on mental health services each year. In low- and middle-income countries this figure is even lower, at less than US$ 0.25 per person per year. Mental health services are non-existent in some places, despite the fact that depression is very common. It can affect anyone, of any age, in any country. Depression often co-exists with other chronic diseases such as cancer, and it increases the risk of noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. In conflict areas or humanitarian emergencies, as many as one in five people are affected by depression.

Beyond feeling sad or down

Depression is different from daily changes in mood. It is a serious illness characterized by persistent feelings of sadness and a loss of interest in once enjoyable activities, for at least two weeks, accompanied by physical and psychological symptoms such as disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy, decreased concentration, and feelings of guilt or low self-worth. People suffering from a severe depressive episode may harm themselves and attempt to commit suicide.

Adverse life events, such as the loss of a loved one, unemployment and trauma arising from violence or abuse, can increase the risk of developing depression. Depression can interfere with a person’s capacity to work and can lead to financial ruin from lost income and opportunity. Economies and governments also bear the burden of depression from decreased productivity and higher health and welfare expenditures.

“One of the most dangerous misperceptions surrounding mental illness is that nothing can be done. Even worse, people with depression sometimes blame themselves for their condition,” according to Dr Shin. “If you are living with depression, my message to you is this: Help is available, and there is absolutely no shame in asking for it. Your depression is not your fault. And you are not alone,” Dr Shin said.

Antidepressant medication, talk therapies or a combination of both are effective treatments for moderate to severe depression. A healthy lifestyle (including regular exercise, work–life balance including spending time with family and friends, and a healthy diet) can benefit people with mild depression.

World Health Day 2017: Depression: let's talk

On World Health Day, WHO is campaigning to end mental health stigma by encouraging the public to talk about depression. For people with depression, talking about their feelings with somebody they trust can be the first step towards recovery. Family and friends can provide support by listening and providing assistance with daily activities, including visits to a health provider. Health providers need to provide a safe space for people who may be suffering from depression or other mental illness, free from stigma, to encourage people to seek help and learn more about the treatments that are available.

Governments must increase resources for mental health support and services, and work across different sectors to ensure those services are available to people who need them the most. Every dollar invested in scaling-up mental health services leads to a US$ 4 return to the economy – in better health and productivity.

WHO’s Regional Agenda for Implementing the Mental Health Action Plan for the Western Pacific outlines a set of actions that countries can undertake to advance mental health governance, service provision, promotion and information systems. This includes training of non-specialists to provide mental health services through WHO’s Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP).

“Depression does not discriminate. Anyone can be affected – chances are you know someone suffering from depression, and you may be suffering from it yourself. Please, talk to your loved ones today and ask them if they are okay. A simple conversation can change – and even save – a life,” Dr Shin concluded.

For further information, please contact:

Mr Ruel E. Serrano
Public Information Office
Telephone: +632 528 9993
Email: serranor@who.int