Society must help in battle with depression and anxiety | Page 30 | Daily News

Society must help in battle with depression and anxiety

Tomorrow, Tuesday October 10 is World Mental Health Day. The event will be observed in more than 150 countries through local, regional and national commemorative events and programs.

The overall objective of the occasion is raising awareness of mental health issues and mobilizing efforts in support of better patient care. ‘Mental health in the workplace’ is the theme for this year’s World Health Organization’s (WHO) program.

A dramatic change

The theme is timely and appropriate. That is because during our adult lives, a large proportion of our time is spent at work. Our experience in the workplace is one of the factors determining our overall wellbeing. Employers and managers who put in place workplace initiatives to promote mental health and to support employees who have mental disorders see gains not only in the health of their employees but also in their productivity at work.

A negative working environment, on the other hand, may lead to physical and mental health problems, harmful use of substances or alcohol, absenteeism and lost productivity. Depression and anxiety are common mental disorders that have an impact on our ability to work and to work productively.

Harassment and bullying at work are also commonly reported problems and can have a substantial adverse impact on mental health. There are many effective actions that organizations can take to promote mental health in the workplace. Such actions may also benefit productivity.

Globally, more than 450 million people suffer from depression, the leading cause of disability. More than 280 million are living with anxiety disorders. Many of these people live with both. A recent WHO-led study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity.

According to WHO, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which people realise their own potential, can cope with normal life stresses, can work productively, and can contribute to their community. Most people experience feelings of anxiety or depression at times. Grief, loss of a job, divorce, illness and other factors can lead to feelings of sadness, worry, frustration, and loneliness.

These are normal reactions to difficult life situations. They can interfere with the ability to carry out everyday activities such as getting to work on time, proper self-care or caring for children. In such cases, people might be suffering from depression, anxiety or a combination of the two.

Our nation’s transformation of mental health services over the past 15 years has been remarkably impressive. Since the devastating tsunami in 2004, the country has experienced a dramatic change in the provision of mental health services, with increased political commitment, funding and a shift in priorities. Such health services have been strengthened and expanded to a large degree. Specialised clinics now focus on inpatient and outpatient services, child mental health, gender-based violence, substance abuse and rehabilitation, making a diverse range of mental health services more accessible than ever before.

The real issue

The number of mental health workers too increased significantly over the past two and a half decades with fresh training programs and professional positions created within the Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine Ministry. For example only 36 psychiatrists worked in Sri Lanka in 2004. By 2016 this figure had doubled to 77. During the same period, the number of medical officers providing mental health care rose from 34 to 205.

Throughout history, people afflicted with mental illness have often been stigmatised and ostracised. Worse still is the truism that psychological maladies have long been assailed with confusion, misunderstanding and mistreatment, And worse still is the horrifying prospect of incarceration, persecution and torture such sufferers have undergone. But while society has come a long way in the progressive treatment afforded to the mentally ill, we still have a long way to go in understanding the problem.

To certain people who have never experienced depression, the seemingly invisible condition can seem like a simple lack of will power. They take the condition far too lightly and often dismiss it asking them to cheer up or tell them they are making a big deal of some trivial problem.

Many may believe it is a desire for drama or attention, or worse still by accusing them of being selfish. The problem is that none of that is true. The real issue is that a person with depression suffers from a condition just as real as chicken pox or the flu. Society does not blame people who have chicken pox or the flu, but we do unfairly blame people with depression for their symptoms.

Most studies indicate that depression is either caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain or substance abuse. Whether it stems from other factors or not it is a clearly diagnosable condition that many people suffer from. It is not a moral failing. It does not mean they are weak or incorrigible. It means they are suffering from a medically diagnosable condition. As such there are many things that can be done to reverse the condition.

Positive progress

The WHO estimates that 850,000 people in this nation suffer some form of depression. But there could be far more as these statistics are derived possibly only from those who have over the years attended state clinics. Health authorities attribute the social stigma attached to the illnesses that prevent people from coming out to seek mental health services.

The study had found that the causes for mental illness in Sri Lanka were both varied and complex, though most professionals believe that the 30-year secessionist conflict and the 2004 tsunami were among the more significant events that had been the primary causes for increasing mental health issues in the country. Authorities also reveal that depression is also common among adolescents and young people. Faced with pressures from exams, finding friends and fitting in to society, young people encounter stress and anxiety, which if untreated can lead to depression. Talking to children about their worries and offering support is an important step towards recovery. Yet, despite the positive progress being made in this sphere mental health services lack human and financial resources in many countries, particularly those low and middle income nations. More funding is needed to promote mental health to increase people’s awareness of the issue.

But the vital factor to remember is that mental health is a problem that strikes people across all ages, all communities, all levels of society, whether they are rich or poor, successful or not, from happy or broken families, from cities or villages.

Yet, few among us actually understand the fears, insecurities and difficulties faced by the thousands of our compatriots, who struggle everyday with mental health problems that may lead to dire consequences. Besides, this stigma surrounding mental health is not a Sri Lankan problem, it is a global one, but it needs to be dealt with here as urgently as anywhere.

Certainly the framework for helping people with mental health problems has been put in place, and that is a good thing, but the momentum must be maintained. Now, we need to work on constructing a society and a culture that understands mental health and to do everything we can to support and help people get through their battles with depression. [email protected]

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