Depression in focus on World Health Day

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Alvine Kapitako

Windhoek-Mental illness and substance abuse disorders contribute to over 40 percent of all disabilities in Namibians aged 20 to 24 years, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

This was revealed at the World Health Day event held in Windhoek on Friday. The day is celebrated to commemorate the founding of WHO.

“Within this category, depressive disorders are the largest contributor of disability at 14 percent followed by anxiety disorders at six percent,” said Dr Desta Tiruneh, a disease prevention and control officer, who spoke at the commemoration of World Health Day on Friday.

He also said early recognition of the symptoms of depression is key to preventing it from becoming a chronic illness.

According to WHO, depression is an illness characterised by persistent sadness, loss of interest and the ability to perform daily activities for a period of over two weeks. Depression is associated with feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, fatigue and poor concentration.

Tiruneh noted that the major causes of depression include loss of a loved one or relationship, poverty, unemployment, physical illnesses, alcohol abuse, drug use and traumatic situations, such as violence or war.

“Depression impacts on people’s ability to carry out everyday tasks, with consequences for families, friends, communities, workplaces and health care systems,” said Tiruneh.
Diagnosis of mental illness – including depressive disorder – is poor even in relatively advanced countries, he added.

“Treatment is inconsistent and there remains little public health education about mental health. Resource allocation to mental health is relatively low in most countries and make up less than three percent of the overall health budget,” Tiruneh noted.

Furthermore, he also alluded to the fact that in Africa, there is a shortage of qualified professionals for mental health. “In Namibia, there are very few specialists in mental health and psychiatrists to provide comprehensive care and services,” he said.

He commended Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services Juliet Kavetuna for her advocacy work in mental health and for ensuring that adequate resources are allocated to the mental health programme in Namibia.

“WHO has published guidelines to help countries to increase and improve healthcare services for people with mental health disorders through care provided by health workers, who are not specialists in mental health,” he said.

Developing community-based services that focus on depression and speaking out against stigma will encourage more people to seek treatment, he added. “Such efforts need to be strengthened and scaled-up to cover the country,” Tiruneh said.

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