To coincide with World Mental Health Day (October 10th) The World Health Organisation (WHO) is calling for an end to the stigmatisation surrounding depression and other mental health disorders and better access to treatments for everyone who needs it.
Depression is extremely common in all regions of the world, it doesn’t discriminate against anyone regardless of age, gender, background, culture, social status or anything else for that matter, and yet there is still a stigma attached to mental health problems.
More than 3 million sufferers globally
According to WHO, more than 350 million people are suffering from depression, and almost a million people commit suicide every year, but many people with symptoms of depression will not seek help or even admit to themselves that there is a problem. Why? WHO says it’s because of cultural attitudes and a lack of proper understanding of depression that contributes to a reluctance to seek help.
Less than half receive the care they need
So despite awareness campaigns and media coverage, there are still large groups of the population that see depression and other mental health problems as a weakness, something that can be avoided, or worse, something to be ashamed about. The saddest part is that most mental health problems can be treated, if only people would seek help.
“We have some highly effective treatments for depression. Unfortunately, fewer than half of the people who have depression receive the care they need. In fact in many countries this is less than 10%,” says Dr Shekhar Saxena, Director of the Department for Mental Health and Substance Abuse.
Ironically, each and every one of us is likely to have someone close to us who has been affected by a mental health problem at some point, perhaps even ourselves.
Relationship between depression and physical health
Depression is a result of “a complex interaction of social, psychological and biological factors” says WHO. “There is a relationship between depression and physical health, for example, cardiovascular disease can lead to depression and vice versa”.
They also say that up to 20 percent of woman who give birth experience post natal depression. Furthermore, they believe that the way things are going, by the year 2030, depression will overtake heart disease and cancer to become the most common disease known to man. This is shocking.
People are afraid of what it means
So why, if depression is so common, is there still a stigma attached to admitting it or seeking help? The most obvious answer is that people are afraid of what it means to seek help. So ignorance and lack of awareness plays a huge role in perpetuating stigma.
If an individual is suffering from the symptoms of depression they may well be afraid of speaking to their employer in case it has a negative impact on their job. They may also be reluctant to speak to their family and friends incase it jeopardises relationships. Perhaps they are scared to speak to their doctor because that would ultimately mean admitting to themselves they had a problem. And there’s the key.
Stigma in the workplace
Arguably, one of the areas where stigma has been hardest to squash is in the workplace. Employees depend on their colleagues to share the workload so may resent others taking time off; individuals rely on their pay cheque to pay the bills and so on. There is some positive news there though. According to new research by Aviva insurance company, 28 percent of UK employees believe there is less stigma attached to mental health problems in the workplace than a year ago.
“It’s good to see that employees are beginning to feel less stigma at work concerning mental health issues, and that many employers have more understanding and want to offer support. As very few employees say they would confide in their employer about a mental health condition, it’s important that managers are able to spot the signs of problems and have the right support in place” says Dr Doug Wright, Medical Director for Aviva, UK Health
“Mental health is high on the agenda for both employees and employers in the UK. Employers have a vital role in helping to support those who are suffering from depression, anxiety or other psychiatric conditions. There are many companies who offer no support at all to such employees, but equally we are seeing more and more companies starting to provide support and running training and awareness campaigns.”
Ok so it looks like there has been some progress. However, if only 28 percent think things have improved that means that nearly three quarters don’t think so or don’t know? In fact the results showed that around a third believed that mental health is still a “taboo” subject and over half think that there is not as much stigma attached to physical illness as there is to mental illness.
Long way to go
It seems like we have a very long way to go before mental health problems are considered no more or less of an issue than any physical condition.