World Health Day Message by Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific for World Health Day 2017

Esteemed representatives of the Philippine Government
and the Diplomatic Corps;
Friends from media and academia;
Distinguished participants; ladies and gentlemen:

Good morning and welcome to the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific.

World Health Day is important for the World Health Organization – because it celebrates the day WHO was founded nearly 70 years ago.

Every year, we mark this day by raising awareness and promoting action on one pressing public health issue.

The theme for World Health Day this year is “Depression: Let’s Talk”.

Depression is more than just feeling sad or down:
Depression is characterised by persistent feelings — not only of sadness, but also loss of interest or pleasure, guilt or low self-esteem for at least two weeks.

People may also report always feeling tired, as depression can disrupt sleep and appetite patterns and affect your concentration.

Most of you here probably know about depression. But what you may not know is how common it is: depression is the world’s largest contributor to disability.

Just think about that for a moment: depression causes a greater burden of disability than any other illness or injury.

And that is because depression is more common than most people realize. More than 300 million people suffer from depression at any given time. In this Region, the Western Pacific, an estimated 66 million people suffer from depression.

And another 55 million people suffer from another common mental disorder, anxiety.

To put this another way: in our Region, about 1 in every 15 people suffer from depression or anxiety.

Probably every person in this room knows someone who suffers from depression or anxiety – maybe even you.

Depression causes mental anguish that takes a toll on relationships, productivity and quality of life in general.

Untreated, depression can lead to suicide – which is the second leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 29… This is especially tragic, as these are people in the prime years of their lives.

It makes me sad when I think that more than 500 people a day take their own lives in our Region.

With depression, too often people suffer in silence. Feelings of shame, stigma or hopelessness prevent them from asking for help when they need it most. So my message today – and every day – for anyone who suffers from depression, is this: you are not alone.

Effective treatments and support are available. There is no shame in asking for help. In fact, doing so is often the first step towards recovery.

That’s why the title of our campaign this World Health Day is ''Let’s Talk''. We need to bring depression – and other mental health issues – out of the shadows and into the light of compassion, understanding and treatment.

We must tackle the stigma, fear and ignorance that stop so many people from getting the help they desperately need – too often with tragic consequences.

At WHO, our work on mental health and depression takes many forms.

In addition to campaigns like Lets Talk, we work with governments across this Region to help strengthen services available to people with mental illnesses.

We encourage the adoption of what we call a whole-of-government approach. This is because properly addressing depression and the hurtful stigma associated with it requires all sectors of government, and all of society to be involved.

The good news is that we are seeing encouraging progress across the Region.

In China for example, a community-based approach to providing mental health care is helping communities to better care for people with severe mental illness.

Japan has been able to significantly reduce suicide deaths, after adopting a whole-of-government approach to this problem.

In the Pacific, 17 countries have come together to form the Pacific Islands Mental Health Network – which is a great platform for strategic partnerships, capacity-building and advocacy for mental health.

Australia has succeeded in mainstreaming discussion about mental health issues. More and more people — including leading politicians and star athletes — are talking about mental health. This really helps to break down stigma.

And here in the Philippines, the scale-up of a programme called mhGAP has helped address the psychosocial needs of people after Typhoon Haiyan. At the same time, it has helped build capacity in health workers to respond to mental health needs of communities.

Talking about success stories like this is important. Countries can learn so much from each other — because there are no simple answers, and no one country that does everything right. Tackling the stigma associated with depression will not be easy, and it won’t be quick.

But with persistence, leadership, and a spirit of partnership and solidarity, it can be done. And it must be done, because people’s lives depend on it.

So this World Health Day, Lets Talk about depression. I encourage everyone listening today to check in with their family and friends to ask if they’re ok. The healing process often begins with a simple conversation.

Together, we can help move mental health out of the shadows – because there is no health without mental health.

Once again, thank you for joining us and helping to make this World Health Day a success.

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